Self-management advice

There are many ways in which patients can help themselves with their breathing conditions, including taking your inhalers, exercises you can do at home and sputum clearance techniques. You may already have been shown these techniques in the Respiratory Centre. 

If you have concerns about your breathing condition you should contact your GP, other medical healthcare professional or, if you have self referral access, contact the Respiratory Centre directly.

Self Management of COPD

COPD Self Management Plan

Breathing control

Breathing control is a technique, taught by physiotherapists, which promotes and emphasises diaphragmatic breathing. Thistype of relaxed breathing will benefit anyone who is breathless.

  1. Breathing control position - sitting downFind a comfortable and well supported position, such as sitting.
  2. Allow your shoulders, arms and upper chest to relax.
  3. Breathe in gently, through your nose, and feel your abdomen expand as the air flows into your lungs.
  4. It may be helpful at first to place one hand on the upper abdomen so you can feel the movement.
  5. Breathe out through either your nose or mouth.
  6. Practise everyday so that you become used to how it feels, then try and use it when you notice your shortness of breath coming on.

This technique is used when you are feeling breathless. Sometimes you may need to breathe faster, such as when exercising or carrying out activities of daily living such as housework, try not to alter the pattern of breathing just the rate. You may need to breathe in and out through your mouth to maintain this.

Sputum clearance

Some people with COPD have problems with sputum in their airways. This can make it harder to breathe and provides an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.

The Active Cycle of Breathing Technique (ACBT) helps to clear lung secretions to replace uncontrollable coughing which can be tiring and ineffective.

  1. Take three deep breaths, holding each for three seconds if you can.
  2. Do some breathing control.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
  4. Take a normal sized breath in followed by a huff, as if trying to steam up a mirror.
  5. If you feel that you are now able to clear your secretions , try a cough.

Practise this technique when well, and do more often if you are experiencing more sputum on your chest, ie during an exacerbation.

Continue steps 1-5 until either your chest feels clear or you are tired.

Positioning to relieve breathlessness

There are, as well as breathing control, certain positions which can help to relieve your breathlessness.

These positions optimise the use of the diaphragm and encourage relaxation of the shoulders, arms and upper chest.

The breathing control technique can be used in one of these positions shown to help relieve shortness of breath. Breathing at an increased rate will be necessary, but by maintaining the pattern your breathing will slow and control will be gained.

Positions include:

Forward lean sittingForward lean sitting
Forward lean standingForward lean standing  
High side lyingHigh side lying 
Leaning against a wall standingLeaning against a wall in standing