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DR LORNA MURRAY: Advice on best way to look after yourself over winter

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Woman suffering an anxiety attack alone in the night
Woman suffering an anxiety attack alone in the night

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used to describe a number of lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, all of which make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because your airways have been narrowed.

Last month it was World COPD Day (November 16), so this is a great time, not only to raise awareness of COPD and what the condition can mean for those who have it, but also to help people become aware of the support that is available to them, what we have in place to help those in hospital and after they have been discharged and how they can look after themselves and manage their condition.

It’s also quite timely that, with winter starting to make an appearance, we support and advise on how best you can look after yourself over the winter months.

COPD is the second most common lung diagnosis in the UK, after asthma. Currently 1.4 million people in the UK are living with COPD with about the same number believed to be undiagnosed (Asthma + Lung UK). The main symptoms of COPD are increasing breathlessness, a persistent chesty cough, frequent chest infections and persistent wheezing. It is very important not to ignore these symptoms as early diagnosis can prevent further damage to the airways and lung tissue.

NHS Highland’s respiratory and technology enabled care teams, in collaboration with the University of Highlands and Islands, charities (third sector) and our housing partners, have worked with staff and patients across Highland to develop a new respiratory pathway which promotes lung health throughout our lives.

Looking after our own lung health is important and the project has designed an online Respiratory Resource Hub (www.bit.ly/RRH-home) to bring together advice for citizens, patients and carers in one place. Your Breathing Matters’ (www.bit.ly/RRH-events) is a monthly opportunity to attend an online group session to hear from respiratory and self-management specialists on topics chosen by you and your carers, and to ask questions.

We’re also mindful that with winter upon us, the weather is getting colder which allows viruses to spread as we head indoors. Vaccination is the key to keeping ourselves and our families safe this winter. Our Covid-19 immunity wanes with time so boosters are critical to keep us protected. Influenza infection rates were also high in the southern hemisphere during our summer months with high death rates and vaccination is an easy way to protect ourselves, our family and our fellow citizens.

If you notice that you are more breathless than usual, there is a change in your cough, you are producing more sputum or there is a change in the colour of the sputum that you produce, please seek early support from your GP practice team. Out-of-hours, the NHS inform website has useful information.

Call 111 if you need advice about your symptoms that cannot wait until you can contact your GP practice team and 111 can dispatch an ambulance crew if needed. The paramedic crew are trained to assess you and treat you if possible before deciding if you need hospital admission.

If you are not taken to hospital, the paramedics will let our community respiratory team know that you have been unwell and we will subsequently contact you to make sure you have the support you need.

We also provide care for people who have been in hospital, allowing them to be supported at home with respiratory care continuing in the community.

  • Dr Lorna Murray, respiratory consultant in NHS Highland’s community respiratory team.

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