Stay well this winter - A doctor's seasonal blog

A breath of fresh air: Helping you to manage your respiratory health

By Dr Karen Robinson

Dr Karen Robinson

Second in the queue at the petrol station in the freezing cold, wishing I had ‘paid at the pump’. The lady in front of me: “Pump 7 and 20 Rothmans please” to the chap at the counter.

I recognise the lady. “Hello doctor. You ok? You will be pleased with me. I had my flu jab and I’ve got my rescue pack.”

Rescue pack? I’m re-playing the RAC guy on the telly earlier: “Pack an ice-scraper, de-icer, warm clothes/blankets and take any medication you need for the next few days with you in case you break down”.

Then the penny drops. She is talking about her COPD rescue pack. That is so important if you have COPD, as the chest infections that cause flare-ups always seem to happen on Friday evening or when going to visit friends over Christmas. You are just not supposed to get ill at those times. It is so inconvenient when you have a party to go to!

COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It’s a term for lung conditions including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

“You diagnosed my COPD last winter,”she says. “I had that cough which just would not go away. I kept coughing up phlegm and sometimes had that horrible wheeze. I just could not breathe properly”. You got me to do a breathing test and have a chest x-ray.”

The breathing test is called spirometry reversibility testing. She had to blow into a special machine that drew a graph of how much air she could breathe out of her lungs and how fast she could breathe it out.

“I know you said that the single greatest thing I could do is quit smoking. I have really tried but it is so hard. I know your nurse can help but I can’t get to appointments or to those Quit4Life sessions. My brother says you can do this telephone support thing. Can I call them myself?”

Yes. It is a self-referral service. Quit4Life provides a telephone support service with free one-to-one support, right from helping you to prepare to quit through to until you have been smoke-free for at least 4 weeks. The weekly support and the Quit Pack of stop smoking products is provided on the NHS. Quit4Life can support you to stop smoking in many other ways as well including online support and face-to-face sessions with an adviser. Have a look at their ‘Top quit Tips’ blog as well as their website. Quit51 provides the Stop smoking service in Farnham/Surrey.

Back to that rescue pack. For this lady, it is a pack of antibiotics and steroid tablets she keeps with her so she can start taking them straight away if she gets a chest infection or if her breathing gets worse. She can start the pack before she sees a pharmacist, nurse or a doctor. She will also need to increase using her inhalers in the way I explained to her in the surgery.

“I did go to the pulmonary rehabilitation course you referred me to. They were spot on. Helped me with an exercise plan and taught me different ways of breathing. They did help me stop smoking as well but I think I need the extra phone help from Quit4Life. I will give them a call to try again.”

There you have it. The RAC got the rescue pack bit right for her: “Take warm clothes and take any medication you need for the next few days with you”. And “Pack an ice scraper and de-icer for me!”

Useful links with information on smoking cessation services and tips that you can use yourself:

For Hampshire residents:

For Surrey residents:

And for everyone:






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