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10 Things Not To Say To Someone With COPD.

10 Things Not To Say To Someone With COPD

Here are ten things not to say to someone living with COPD. (Followed by what a person with COPD might say in response!)

What not to say to someone with COPD

  1. “Why are you just sitting around?”  Um, I’m sitting around because I have to conserve my energy. I may be doing it because I’m having a bad COPD day. I may look fine, but I don’t feel fine. So, I need to rest.
  2. “You’re just making excuses.” I’m not making excuses. I can’t do that because I have to avoid going places that might trigger my COPD. I have to avoid my COPD triggers. Or, I’m having a flare-up and I need to rest. I need to lay low today. This is what you have to do when you have a chronic lung disease.
  3. “You look just fine.” COPD is an invisible illness. It’s not like having a broken leg. A person with a broken leg would have a cast. That cast says to you, “I have a broken leg.” You cannot see COPD. You cannot see that I’m short of breath. You have to take my word for it. You have to trust me.  
  4. “COPD is all in your head”

  5. “It’s all in your head.” COPD is not all in your head. Yes, COPD can cause anxiety. Many people with it worry. We sometimes even become depressed. But, the disease itself is not in our heads. It’s a real disease with real treatments.
  6. “You shouldn’t exercise.” Actually, the exact opposite. Sure, there are times we COPDers need to rest. There are times we need to stay inactive. But, in order to live long and live well with this disease, we must stay active. This is true even if staying active is a simple walk. We must exercise as best we can. We must stay active as best we can.
  7. “If you tried _____ it would cure your COPD.” Look, there is no cure for COPD. There are medicines that can help you breathe easier. Many of these medicines are proven by science to work. They are accepted by the medical community. They can help you breathe easier and live better. They may even help you live longer. But, there is no cure.
  8. “Are you contagious?” I cough because I have a lung disease. I’m short of breath because I have a lung disease. But, you cannot catch COPD. Sure, you can catch a cold. But COPD is not a cold. It’s a chronic lung disease. 
  9. “You caused your COPD”

  10. “You did this to yourself.” Look, not all COPD is caused by smoking. Some cases are caused by inhaling chemicals in the air at work. Some are caused by a rare genetic disorder. And, for most of us who smoke, we were just trying to get through life. Many of us started back when smoking was considered cool. We didn’t know it was harmful. And even when we learned it was harmful, it’s a hard habit to quit.  So, we did not do this to ourselves. It’s not our fault some of us respond poorly to cigarette smoke. It’s not our fault. 
  11. “You should have known better.” Or “You never should have smoked.” Look, not all COPD is caused by smoking. Many people who never smoked still get COPD. Plus, there are many reasons people start smoking. It’s not for you to judge why we started. 
  12. “You never should have started smoking.” Again, not all COPDers smoked. Besides, many of us started smoking when smoking was considered cool. People didn’t know about the dangers of smoking. Yes, we wish we had never started. But, you can’t go back and undo the past. There’s this old saying that applies here. “You do the best with what you know today. And as you learn better, you do better.” 

So, what are some things you think shouldn’t be said to someone living with COPD? 

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • KevinDavitt
    1 year ago

    John – have you been eavesdropping on my conversations? (lol).

    Thanks for this. Spot on!


  • Pamela191
    1 year ago

    This isn’t about this article but I hope someone sees this. On my support group on FB we are talking about eating and COPD. I cannot believe how many people are finding that what we eat, how much we eat and when we eat has such an impact on our breathing and how we feel. I never see anything about this connection but it is there and those of us with COPD know it but it seems like the doctors and places like this do not know it. Many times our SOB is a direct result of our eating.

  • BreathlessinEssex
    1 year ago

    Pamela some years ago I found after going on holiday to Spain that cutting down large meals and eating a small side salad helped alot with my breathing.Now back in England I carry on doing that and I feel it really helps.For example Friday night fish n chip night normally my plate would be full but now I only eat half that amount and instead of mushy peas on the side I have a small salad. So much better and more enjoyable actually. Plus a piece of fruit afterwards I find is good to.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    1 year ago

    Good observation. Diet can definitely have an impact on breathing. Where I work, and at most hospitals, diet education is an essential component of COPD education. It’s also an integral part of pulmonary rehabilitation. Here are a couple links to articles on this topic if you are interested. 1., 2. 3. Let us know if you have further John. Site Moderator.

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