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How to Prevent and Reduce the Risk of COPD Flare-Ups

man taking an inhaler for COPD with his son on his lap

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the lungs, obstructing airflow and making it difficult to breathe. A COPD flare-up indicates a worsening of the condition, making breathing more difficult.

Flare-ups may also increase your risk of further lung damage. Identifying your COPD triggers and early warning signs of a flare-up can help you better manage your condition and protect your health.

Are You Having a COPD Flare-Up?

Many illnesses cause symptoms that affect breathing, including the flu, allergies, pneumonia, and COVID-19. The flu and pneumonia can also cause a phlegmy cough. Just like COPD, wheezing and shortness of breath can occur if you have allergies.

COVID-19 also affects the lungs, causing breathing troubles that range from mild to severe. When allergies trigger breathing difficulties, taking allergy medication or avoiding the allergens will usually improve your symptoms in a day or two.

You may have the flu or COVID-19 if your breathing issues and coughing are accompanied by:

It can be difficult to tell which virus is responsible for your symptoms, as both illnesses can cause similar symptoms. Loss of taste or smell is one clue that you may have COVID19 instead of the flu.

Keep in mind that the flu, pneumonia, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses can cause serious lung and breathing problems and may trigger a COPD flare-up.

8 Ways to Reduce Your Risk COPD Flare-Up

These tips can help you manage your COPD and prevent flare-ups:

Get Vaccinated

You’re more likely to develop severe, potentially life-threatening complications if you have COPD and get the flu or pneumonia. Flu and pneumonia vaccines offer simple ways to lower your risk.

Stay Away From Smoke and Pollutants

Smoke, whether it’s from a cigarette or a campfire, may trigger a flare-up. Pay attention to the air quality forecast for your area. If pollution is high, stay inside.

Recognize COPD Flare-up Sign

With COPD flare-ups, you may notice you:

Follow your COPD treatment plan if you notice any of these signs.

Avoid crowds

It’s much easier to catch a virus in crowded areas. Stay away from congested places and reschedule visits with friends or family members if they’re feeling ill. This is especially important now that COVID-19 is so easily spread when people are in close contact with one another.

COPD at UVA Health

We're one of the few medical centers in the region to offer a specialized clinic for the management of COPD.

Wear a Mask

Cover your mouth and nose with a mask. Also, practice social distancing will help you reduce your risk of developing the flu, coronavirus, and other respiratory viruses.

Don’t Touch Your Face

Many people don’t realize just how often they touch their faces. In an Australian research study, medical students touched their faces 23 times in just one hour.

Unfortunately, germs can easily enter your body if you touch a contaminated object and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Keeping your hands away from your face, in addition to frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitizer, may help stop you from getting sick.

Embrace Healthy Living

Don’t smoke, use alcohol only in moderation, and choose foods that offer the nutrients you need for good health. Lean meats, poultry, fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are the best choices for a healthy diet. Regular exercise is also important if you have COPD. According to the American Lung Association, moderate exercise can improve shortness of breath and the way your body uses oxygen.

Don’t Wait to Call Your Doctor

If worsening symptoms don’t improve within a day or two, call your doctor. If you have chest pain, severe shortness of breath, an inability to speak in full sentences, confusion or blue lips, and/or fingers, call 911 or ask someone to take you to the emergency room.

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