COPD Support Ireland Warns People with COPD 
May Not be Seeking Medical Attention 
Amid Fears of Contracting COVID-19 in Hospital

– New “Cocooning with COPD” Information Pack Being Made Available to Support People with COPD During Pandemic –

 – Estimated Half a Million People Living with COPD in Ireland –

Date of issue: Monday, April 27, 2020
Prof JJ Gilmartin, Consultant Respiratory Physician and Chair of COPD Support Ireland, has today expressed concern that people with COPD (or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) are delaying seeking medical help if they have a flare-up in symptoms due to fears of contracting COVID-19 in hospital
. People with COPD are one of the vulnerable groups more at risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19 and are estimated to number half a million people in Ireland. He has urged patients not to put their health in danger and sought to reassure them that hospitals are taking every precaution to ensure their maximum health protection. 

Prof Gilmartin’s comments come as a new “Cocooning with COPD information pack with tips and advice for protecting physical and mental well-being is being made available from today for people with COPD. The pack contains a COPD & Me self-management booklet, the Staying Well – Cocooning from Coronavirus booklet, and a COPD communication card, and was developed in conjunction with the HSE National Clinical Programme Respiratory and the COPD Adviceline. This pack is available to download at or can be ordered for postal delivery free of charge by texting the word “COPD”, plus name and address to 51444 (standard network charges apply).

Prof Gilmartin is urging patients to speak to their GP, or COPD hospital outreach team, if their COPD worsens:
“For good public health reasons right now, physicians are not in a position, at least initially, to see patients in person for routine check-ups, and instead are having to rely on more limited phone and video consultations. However, we are anxious that early signs of a disease flare-up might not be immediately apparent through these virtual clinics. We are also concerned that many people with COPD who are having a worsening of symptoms are really afraid to come to hospital and are staying at home for fear of contracting COVID-19. I would strongly urge people with COPD to pay close attention to their own signs and symptoms. They will know if they are having a flare-up of COPD and, if concerned, they should speak to their GP or COPD hospital outreach team without delay so that they can be monitored. 

“Patients should be reassured that doctors are not going to ask them to come into hospital unless it’s absolutely necessary and in their best interests. Patients should know that hospitals have different entry pathways for COVID and non-COVID patients and that every possible precaution is being taken to remove any risk to them. To be honest, there is a greater risk to their health by not attending hospital, or holding out on coming until they can no longer cope. Leaving things until the last minute could result in a more severe exacerbation that may ultimately lead to pneumonia, and prolonged oxygen therapy or even ventilatory support. This can be avoided but we need people to take action promptly.”

Dr Desmond Murphy, Consultant Respiratory Physician and HSE National Clinical Lead in Respiratory Medicine, adds:
“The National Clinical Programme for Respiratory Medicine is delighted to have been involved in this initiative. At this time, it is critical that we support our patients with COPD. I believe that this campaign will help in this endeavour. In addition, the National Clinical Programme is actively engaged in developing platforms for ‘virtual’/remote clinics and ‘virtual’ rehabilitation programmes to augment the current measures aimed at minimising any risk for COPD patients. I would therefore echo the views of Prof. Gilmartin and ask COPD patients who need assistance to contact their GP or COPD outreach team and integrated teams. There is an ever-expanding menu of healthcare delivery methods available, and your GP or treating team will endeavour to tailor this to best suit you at this time.”

Information Pack Aims to Address “Digital Isolation”
The new “Cocooning with COPD information pack features information on COPD, its risk factors, symptoms and diagnosis. It also provides lots of helpful and easy-to-understand advice on self-care including techniques to cope with breathlessness, exercises that people can do at home, tips for minding mental health, and guidance on nutrition. The pack also includes a COPD communication card which patients can complete with their healthcare professional in making an action plan to help them manage their COPD on a daily basis, as well as a booklet on staying well and living with COPD in a new COVID world.

Joan Johnston, National Co-ordinator, COPD Support Ireland, believes that the pack means that people with COPD don’t have to worry about being digitally isolated as well as being socially isolated during this pandemic:
“We know that for many people with COPD that not only are they socially isolated at the moment, but they are also digitally isolated to a large degree. They may not have access to the internet and, even if they do, they may not know how best to go about using it. The Cocooning with COPD pack aims to bridge that gap by providing people with information in to their hands and that they can flick through for advice as to how to best maintain their physical and mental health.

“I would also encourage people if they know of someone with COPD in their neighbourhood to reach out and see if they could benefit from some additional support at this time. A phone call to ask them how they are doing in terms of managing their symptoms and to ask whether they might need to see a doctor, or to pick up some prescription items for their rescue pack, could make a huge difference to them. The COPD Adviceline is also available on Freefone 1800 83 21 46 where people can speak to a specialist respiratory nurse if they need additional support.”

Biggest Cause of A&E Admission
COPD is perhaps more familiar to people as emphysema or bronchitis. While there is no cure for this lung condition, it is treatable and can be managed to give the best possible quality of life. The most obvious symptoms are a persistent cough with or without phlegm, and difficulty in breathing. While smoking is the predominant risk factor, recent research has shown that family history, chronic asthma, air pollution and occupational exposure to harmful fumes, dust or gases, also play a significant role. 

There are approximately 500,000 people in Ireland living with COPD yet, worryingly, only half of these have been formally diagnosed. According to the most recent statistics, there were 40,444 admissions to hospitals nationwide as a result of COPD between 2016 and 2018. Indeed, COPD is the most common disease-specific cause of emergency hospital admission among adults with Ireland having the highest hospitalisation rate for COPD of all OECD countries in 2015, the last year for which international data is available.1

Top Seven Tips – Living with COPD in a time of COVID

  1. Prevent infection. Keep all your equipment such as nebulisers clean by wiping down or washing after use. Wash your own hands with soapy water before and after use. You should also keep your distance from other household members when using a CPAP or non-invasive ventilator as these are considered aerosol-generating devices. Remember to stay at home, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.
  2. Check your supplies. Make sure you have one month’s supply of your medicines so that you won’t run out unexpectedly. If you have a back-up prescription for steroids and antibiotics – a “rescue pack” – ensure that you have your supply of these and that they are in date. Many pharmacies are now offering a delivery service.
  3. Breathe. Now is the time to really get into a routine of doing the controlled breathing exercises and chest clearance techniques you have been taught to help get rid of phlegm. They will help with relaxation too!
  4. Exercise. While you may be cocooning and advised to stay at home, you can still engage in physical activity which is so important to help improve breathlessness. The more you do, the more you will be able to do. Go out for a breath of fresh air in your back yard, garden or balcony or, if that’s not possible, why not do sit-to-stands, or march on the spot in the comfort of your own sitting room? Check out COPD & Me for a variety of exercises that you can do or tune into Ray & Ó Sé Fitness 15 for some exercise tips on RTÉ One at 2.20pm each weekday.
  5. Eat well. Try to maintain a well-balanced diet, eating little and often rather than having big meals. Eating the right food can provide the energy your body needs to breathe and build a strong immune system to help prevent and fight infections. If you need help with your shopping being delivered, get in touch with your local authority which can help. Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids too. 
  6. Don’t delay seeking help. If you have a flare-up of your usual COPD symptoms, have other symptoms that concern you, or have a “new” cough or fever, contact your GP immediately. 
  7. Mind your mind. Stress and anxiety are a common feature of living with COPD and likely to be even more so at this time. Take care of your emotional health and talk to family and friends, or your fellow COPD support group members, over the phone or online. Try your best to keep up a routine and use social media in moderation. Check out the mental health supports and services available at  

COPD Support Ireland is the national umbrella body for COPD support groups nationwide and works to raise awareness of the condition, to advocate on behalf of patients and their families, to enable peer support and self-management, and to support research and educational initiatives. 

People who have questions about how best to manage COPD, and who wish to speak to a specialist respiratory nurse for information and advice, can telephone the national COPD Adviceline on Freefone 1800 83 21 46. This is a call-back service and an appointment will be made for a nurse to return the call at a time to suit you. The line is open Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.  

The “Cocooning with COPD” information campaign has been kindly supported by the Community Foundation for Ireland and A. Menarini Pharmaceuticals.

For more information on COPD and COPD Support Ireland, visit


Issued on behalf of COPD Support Ireland by: Don Delaney, d2 communications, tel.: 01 910 8987 / 087 793 3249 or email

1 National Healthcare Quality Reporting System Annual Report 2019 –