An important step to getting control of your COPD is avoiding COPD exacerbations or flare-ups. Many people with COPD find that certain things can trigger their symptoms. The best way to minimize your risk of experiencing an exacerbation or flare-up is to identify and reduce these triggers.
Avoid Tobacco smoke
Quitting smoking is the best way to treat and prevent COPD exacerbations, but it can also be the most difficult. One of the most successful methods to quit smoking involves a combination of counseling and nicotine replacement therapy or smoking cessation medications. It is also important to learn how to manage or avoid situations that may trigger a relapse such as psychological stress, being around other smokers, getting into arguments, drinking alcohol, and negative moods. Ask your healthcare provider to help determine what strategies are best for you and for information on smoking cessation programs in your area.
Second hand smoke exposure is also largely associated with increased risk of COPD, particularly in partners and children of smokers. Being exposed to second hand smoke inside the home or other enclosed areas further intensifies the risk of developing COPD and increases COPD symptoms. To reduce the impact of second hand smoke, partners and parents should not smoke around nonsmokers and children, especially not in enclosed areas such as your home, car, or other poorly ventilated rooms.
Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution
Jobs that involve exposure to dusts and fumes have been associated with an increased risk of developing COPD and triggering COPD exacerbations. Eliminating or reducing exposure to these substances is the best way to reduce this risk. If you are currently working in this type of environment and have not yet been diagnosed with a respiratory disorder, monitoring your symptoms for early case detection is essential. Ensuring that respiratory protective equipment is used in the workplace and that there is adequate ventilation to meet safe air quality standards may also reduce the risk and progression of COPD.
Be aware of sources of air pollution inside your home as well. Keep carpets dry and vacuumed regularly to help control dust.
People with COPD should pay attention to public announcements of air quality. On days with poor air quality, staying inside and avoiding vigorous outdoor exercise may help reduce symptoms and the risk of COPD exacerbation. If you cannot avoid air pollution, wear an air pollution mask to minimize your exposure.
It is important to protect yourself from catching the flu by getting a flu shot every fall before flu season hits. Annual flu shots have been shown to reduce serious illness in people with COPD as well as the incidence of hospitalizations. In addition, a pneumococcal vaccine every 5 to 10 years is recommended for COPD patients with an FEV1 < 40% or anyone with COPD aged 65 and older.
Stay away from people who are sick
Avoid being around people who have a cold, the flu, or coughs. If you can’t help being around a sick family member or co-worker, make sure you do what you can to protect yourself from catching something from them. Not sharing glasses and utensils with people who are sick and washing your hands frequently are some of the best ways to prevent the spread of infections.
Talk to your doctor about creating an action plan
Creating a written action plan with your doctor can be a useful tool to manage your COPD and deal with potential COPD exacerbations. An action plan could will help you know when and who to call if your COPD symptoms get worse and may describe what medication to take if your condition changes.
Take care of yourself
Eating right, exercising, getting enough rest, and taking your medication as prescribed will help control your daily symptoms as well as help you stay healthy enough to fight off infections that can lead to COPD exacerbations.
Unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake, drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day will help thin mucus and reduce coughing. Keeping your home at a comfortable humidity level can also help reduce chest congestion and COPD exacerbations.