COPD: Protecting against flare-ups

To reduce COPD flare-ups, don't smoke, prevent infections and avoid common irritants, such as smoke and certain household chemicals.

COPD can cause episodes called flare-ups, or exacerbations. This is when your symptoms become worse than usual for a period of time. Because COPD makes your lungs more vulnerable, it's important that you take steps to protect them against flare-ups, which can also help slow damage to your lungs.

To protect your lungs, avoid smoking and other common lung irritants in and outside your home. Also take steps to prevent the flu, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

Avoid irritating your lungs

In general, to protect against irritants:

  • Avoid and limit exposure to irritants.
  • Wear a mask if you know you might be exposed to irritants.
  • Use a fan to direct any nearby fumes away from you.

Avoid smoke and outdoor irritants

  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid outdoor smoke, such as from fires and charcoal grills.
  • Avoid exercising outside when there's an air-safety warning, the humidity is higher than 80 percent, or it's very warm or very cold.
  • Wear a mask if you'll be doing activities that create a fine dust.

Use caution with paint, gasoline and solvents

  • Use only latex water-based paint and wood-finishing products.
  • When you fill your car or lawn mower, make sure the wind blows the fumes away from you.
  • Never pour gasoline or other chemicals in a closed garage.
  • Don't run a car in the garage — even when the big door is open — because there's not enough air circulation to keep carbon monoxide from building up.

Limit heating and ventilation irritants

  • Change the furnace or air conditioner filter often and on a regular schedule.
  • Leave windows closed if the outside air is dusty or smoky.
  • Use a dust filter or humidifier if you have forced-air heating and air conditioning.
  • Get a room air conditioner if you don't have central air conditioning.
  • Keep the humidity level in your home between 40 and 50 percent.
  • Use the bathroom exhaust fan or open a window or door when you shower or bathe.

Ease irritation when housecleaning

  • Use liquids or creams instead of sprays whenever possible.
  • Have someone else vacuum drapes or rugs.
  • Use a dust cloth or mop that's been treated to hold dust.
  • Turn on the furnace or air conditioning fan to help clear dust in the air faster.
  • Limit use of chemicals and open the windows or use products outside when possible — a dusk mask won't protect you from fumes.
  • Use water-based products without ammonia or strong scents.

Choose self-care products wisely

  • Use nonaerosol products that don't make fumes, such as roll-on deodorants and mousse or gel hair products.
  • Limit or don't use perfumes, colognes or aftershaves if they bother you.
  • Avoid nail polish and remover if they bother you.

Prevent respiratory infections

When you have COPD, you're at a higher risk of serious complications from a cold, flu or other respiratory infections. To help protect your health and lungs from these types of illnesses:

  • Clean any breathing devices you use, such as oxygen equipment, as directed.
  • Wash your hands before you touch equipment or medicines and after handling used tissues.
  • Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.
  • Avoid crowded places during cold and flu season.
  • Avoid contact with people who have a cold or the flu.
  • If you must be near a person who's sick, wear a mask over your mouth and nose, and wash your hands after your visit is over.
  • Ask your doctor about flu and pneumonia vaccines.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you may need a regular antibiotic to take at the first sign of a chest infection.
March 01, 2019 See more In-depth