The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can often be a delicate balance of trying to live your life and complete daily activities, while attempting to avoid a flare-up. A COPD flare-up or exacerbation is often linked to an infection or other illness like a cold. There are many other triggers for a COPD flare-up including extreme temperatures, or an exposure to fumes, smoke and pollution.
Symptoms of a COPD Flare-up
A COPD flare-up can be scary, and symptoms should not be ignored. Signs of a COPD flare-up are:
- Coughing, wheezing or chest tightness that is worse than usual
- An increase in mucus or change in the color of mucus
- Confusion or feeling mentally cloudy
- Swelling in hands and feet
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 50 percent of COPD flare-ups are not reported to physicians, meaning that they are mild enough to handle at home. But some flare-ups are severe, and can cause a visit or admittance to the hospital.
Tips to Avoid a COPD Flare-up
There are things you can do to prevent a COPD flare-up and stay healthy. Here are 5 tips on how:
Tip 1. Avoid air pollution.
You may have thought quitting smoking should be the first tip, and quitting smoking should be done as soon as possible. But even if you’ve already quit smoking, or never smoked, you need to avoid polluted environments. This means staying away from smoky bars or bowling alleys, and from places with industrial fumes or dust. You should also get in the habit of checking the air quality report, which is often mentioned on weather reports. On days with poor air quality, try to stay inside more and do not overexert yourself outdoors. Take a look inside your home as well, and make sure the carpets are vacuumed to control dust. You can also consider getting an air purifier for your home. Try to avoid excessive pet allergens as well.
Tip 2. Use a spirometer.
Chances are, you already have an at-home spirometer from your pulmonologist. But if it’s just sitting in a cabinet collecting dust, it’s not helping you, and it can be a valuable tool. This handheld device measures how much air you can blow out in 1 second. For some people with COPD, it’s hard to determine if they’re having a flare-up. Using the spirometer can help you see whether or not your lung function is getting worse.
Tip 3. Get a flu shot.
Every fall, you should get a flu shot. Many pharmacies offer flu shots free of charge, and are often covered by health insurance. The flu shot helps protect people with weaker immune systems, like COPD patients. In addition, check with your physician to see if you are due for a pneumonia or pertussis shot. You should also avoid being around people who are ill.
Tip 4. Try pulmonary rehabilitation.
Pulmonary rehabilitation can be recommended by your physician. It is a program that combines exercise, education and support to manage COPD. It is also a way for COPD patients to learn exercises that they are capable of doing. This can include leg exercises and walking on a treadmill. Pulmonary rehab often offers exercises for the breathing muscles in order to help sufferers take less shallow breaths.
Tip 5. Hand Hygiene is important.
One of the ways to prevent a flare-up is by not getting a cold or other illness. A cold may seem very minor, and you’ve probably had countless colds in your life, but with COPD, a cold can lead to a flare-up. Proper hand hygiene is an easy way to prevent the spread of infection. Be sure to wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water. Try to avoid touching your eyes or mouth when you haven’t washed your hands, or when you’re out in public. Carry hand sanitizer or wipes for when you’re on the go.