Lungs affected by COPD are very sensitive, particularly to things like respiratory irritants, physical strain, and less-than-ideal breathing conditions (such as hot or humid air). Because of this, if you have COPD, you've probably noticed that your COPD symptoms tend to flare up in certain environments or when you do certain things.
Many common habits and everyday activities can trigger COPD symptoms, and your lungs tend to get even more sensitive to these things as the disease progresses. Because of this, a vital part of learning how to manage your COPD symptoms effectively is learning how to protect your lungs from these triggers.
In some cases, that means going out of your way to avoid—or find a different approach—to activities and situations that can make your symptoms worse. Recognizing these situations can be a bit tricky, however, because many things can affect your lungs without causing obvious or immediate symptoms.
For every COPD trigger that you notice, there are likely others that you don't. Unfortunately, the hazards you don't know about can actually be the most dangerous; you can expose yourself to them over and over again without even realizing they pose a risk.
For example, most people with COPD know they're supposed to stay away from cigarette smoke, but many don't realize that using common household cleaning solutions can also harm their lungs. And that's just one of a plethora of lesser-known activities that can harm your lungs and/or exacerbate COPD symptoms.
In this guide, we've put together a list of more than a dozen different activities that can be dangerous or risky for people with COPD. We cover the little things—like sleeping in the wrong position at night—and the bigger, complex issues, like dangerous eating habits and ignoring serious symptoms that could signal a medical emergency.
Some of the things you see on this list might seem familiar, but you're bound to learn something new as you go through this guide. Our goal is to help you recognize at least a few activities that you didn't know were risky before, and to provide you with some practical tools and techniques you can use to protect yourself from those hazards in the future.
You'll find links to many expert online resources throughout this guide that you can use to learn even more about COPD hazards and what you can do to avoid them. We've also provided links to several other practical COPD health and wellness guides from our Respiratory Resource Center, where you can find even more detailed advice and information that expands on many of the topics covered in this post.
Activities & Habits You Should Avoid if You Have COPD
Cooking Without Ventilation
Many people don't realize that cooking releases smoke, oils, and other pollutants into the air that are harmful to your lungs. In fact, research shows that people who cook often—and are thus exposed to these fumes repeatedly over time—have reduced lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, and a higher risk for developing COPD.
Even short-term exposure to cooking fumes can affect your lungs and make your COPD symptoms worse. Prolonged or repeated exposure is even more risky and has the potential to cause additional long-term damage to your lungs.
This is why it's important to use proper ventilation while you cook, especially if you or anyone in your household has COPD. This can not only substantially reduce your exposure to respiratory irritants while you're cooking, but it also prevents the pollution from building up inside your home.
If you have windows in your kitchen, opening them up before you start cooking is one simple way to ventilate the room. This isn't the most efficient form of ventilation, but it will allow the fumes to drift outdoors instead of staying trapped in the room.
You can ventilate your kitchen even more efficiently if you help the air current along using a fan (facing out the window) or a built-in kitchen vent. Some kitchens also have vent hoods installed directly over the stove to whisk away cooking fumes straight at the source.
However, kitchen vents and fume hoods only work this way if they are actually connected to a pipe that takes the air outside. Unfortunately, some “vents” that come in kitchens—especially those installed under cabinets and wall-mounted microwaves—are nothing more than recirculating fans that blow the fumes right back into the room.
To learn more about how to reduce indoor air pollution, check out our guide on How to Improve Your Air Quality at Home.
Drinking Alcohol Before Bed
While there's no blanket rule saying that people with COPD shouldn't drink, you should still be a little extra cautious with alcohol if you have COPD. One reason for this is that alcohol can cause a side effect known as respiratory depression, which causes you to breathe more slowly and take more shallow breaths than you normally would.
Mild respiratory depression also happens naturally during certain stages of sleep, which is another reason why many people with COPD have increased shortness of breath and difficulty sleeping through the night. If you drink alcohol too soon before bed, it can suppress your breathing even further, making it even harder to breathe effectively while you're asleep.
This is particularly dangerous if you have a health condition like sleep apnea or COPD that also affects your ability to breathe during the night. These conditions also cause nighttime breathing problems that significantly increase your risk for nighttime oxygen desaturation (PDF link), which happens when your blood oxygen levels fall too low while you sleep.
When you add a respiratory depressant like alcohol to the mix, you're even more likely to have trouble breathing and experience low blood oxygen levels at night. Unfortunately, because it happens while you're asleep, you might not even realize that you're not getting enough oxygen at night until it starts to take a toll on your health.
In the short term, nighttime oxygen deprivation can trigger uncomfortable morning symptoms (including headache, fatigue, and shortness of breath) that can linger throughout the day and make your COPD symptoms worse. Over the long term, nighttime oxygen desaturation can put you at risk for more serious health problems like cardiovascular damage and cognitive decline.
This is why, if you have COPD, you should be extra careful about not only how much alcohol you drink, but also when you drink it. That means drinking in moderation, avoiding alcohol too close to bedtime, and being careful not to mix alcohol with other medications that can cause respiratory depression (including opioids, sleeping pills, and other sedative medications).
Showering Without Ventilation
Showering is a difficult activity for many people with COPD. The physical exertion of showering makes many people feel breathless, and it tends to get worse as the heat and humidity from the shower fill up the room.
This can be difficult cope with every time you need to bathe, but ventilating your bathroom can make it much easier to bear. That's why, before you start your shower, you should always make sure there's a way for the heat and humidity to escape.
You can do this by opening a bathroom window or, ideally, using a proper ventilation fan. If your bathroom doesn't have either, it might be worth considering getting one installed; too much humidity doesn't only make it harder to breathe, but it also encourages mold growth.
Mold tends to grow in enclosed spaces where humidity lingers, and it's a serious respiratory hazard that makes COPD symptoms worse. In order to keep your home safe, you should always vent excess humidity and look out for signs of mold growth, especially in places like bathrooms, basements, walls, ceilings, and around water faucets and pipes.
Taking Over-the-Counter Medications (Without Your Doctor's Permission)
When you have a chronic disease like COPD, you have to be very cautious about what drugs and medications you take. Even things that might seem harmless, like supplements or over-the-counter medicines, have the potential to cause dangerous side-effects or interact negatively with other medications.
For example, many cold medications, allergy medications, and decongestants that you can buy at the store can cause mild respiratory depression. This side-effect is usually not too much of a concern for healthy people, but it can worsen breathing problems in people with COPD.
It's also important to be aware that certain circumstances can amplify the side-effects of over-the-counter medications, which is why you should always read the directions and warnings for every medication you take. Fore example, medications that usually only cause mild respiratory depression can cause moderate to severe respiratory depression if you take them at night, in large does, or in combination with another medication that lists respiratory depression as a potential side effect.
This highlights the danger of drug interactions, which happens when you take two medications (or a medication and a supplement) that have different effects on your body when they're combined compared to when you take them alone. Depending on the type of interaction, this can make a medication less effective, make its effects stronger, or cause additional side effects to appear.
To be on the safe side, you should never take any new medications or supplements without getting input from your doctor first. Additionally, you should always tell your doctor about every medicine, herbal product, and supplement you take, no matter how small or insignificant you think it might be.
Smoking is a huge lung hazard—one of the biggest—and it's important to bring up even though it might seem obvious to some. We want to emphasize that quitting smoking is always beneficial for your health, no matter how many years you've been smoking and no matter how advanced your COPD has become.
Unfortunately, many people with COPD don't think it's worth it to quit. It's a common misconception that it won't make much of a difference to stop smoking once you've already developed a smoking-related disease.
However, this way of thinking is not only false, but downright dangerous. Quitting smoking at any time has numerous short-term and long term benefits for your overall health and your COPD.
Research suggests that quitting smoking can actually improve your COPD symptoms, slow down lung function decline, and generally slow down the progression of the disease. On the other hand, continuing to smoke while you have COPD can worsen your COPD symptoms, make your lungs more prone to infection (PDF link), and cause you to have more frequent COPD exacerbations.
Smoking can also affect your baseline breathing ability, as COPD patients who smoke have quicker lung function decline (PDF link). What's more, COPD isn't the only smoking-related disease you can get; if you continue smoking, you increase your risk for lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, diabetes, stroke, and more.
There's a reason that quitting smoking is considered a vital, first-line treatment for COPD, and you shouldn't take it lightly. Even though quitting smoking is hard (really, really hard!), it's more than worth all the work it takes to make it happen.
And don't worry! You don't have to figure it out all on your own; there are tons of quit-smoking resources out there you can use for help.
If you'd like to learn how to get started or how to find all the quit-smoking resources you could ever need, check out our comprehensive, 3-part guide on how to quit smoking:
- Part 1: Overcoming Doubts & Finding Resources to Help You Quit
- Part 2: Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal & Choosing a Quit Smoking Medication
- Part 3: Taking the First Steps & Strategies for Staying Smoke Free
Doing Dusty, Dirty, & Hazardous Jobs
Pretty much all allergens and small particulates, including dust, pollen, and mold, can harm your lungs and trigger COPD symptoms if you breathe them in. Many chemicals emit lung-toxic fumes as well, and they can come from unexpected places, including household products and home construction materials like treated wood, varnishes, and paint.
Because of this, people with COPD should generally try to avoid going dirty jobs, particularly work that kicks up dust (and other airborne particles) or might expose you to chemical fumes. This includes many types of home maintenance projects, including home repair, renovations, and heavy cleaning projects around the house.
Whenever possible, you should ask someone else to help you with these jobs—or at least the most risky parts—so you don't have to put your already-compromised lungs at further risk. If you have the means, you should consider hiring professionals to do hazardous construction, renovation, and cleaning jobs (e.g. mold removal) for you.
You should also take care with materials that can release hazardous fumes into your house, including many types of paints, lumber, adhesives, and even new carpets and flooring. If you can't avoid them while they're being installed or used in your home, consider staying somewhere else for awhile until the fumes have time to dissipate.
|Image from TS Eriksson|
If you have no other choice but to do a risky project on your own, make sure you wear respiratory protection and—most importantly—that use the appropriate type of respiratory protection for the job. Some things are fine to do with dust masks while others require full respirators for safety, and if you choose the wrong equipment it might not offer any protection at all.
To learn more about the correct type of respiratory protection equipment to use for various jobs, you can reference this guide from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Going Outside When Air Pollution is High
Research shows that air pollution can have a significant impact on people with COPD; it can worsen breathing symptoms, increase your risk for exacerbation and hospitalization, and even increase your risk of death. Because of this, you should do your best to be mindful about when you go outside and try to stay indoors when your local pollution index is high.
You can find your current air pollution levels by checking your city's air quality index (AQI), which you can get from your local weather station or by looking up your zip code on airnow.gov. The air quality index is an simple, color-coded scale that tells you how healthy or unhealthy the outside air is to breathe.
In general, anytime air pollution rises above the yellow (moderate) zone, you should do two things: First, you should avoid spending time outside, and especially avoid doing any exercise or strenuous activity outdoors; that's because, when you exert yourself, you breathe in more air—and thus and more pollution—compared to when you're at rest.
Second, you should keep your doors and windows shut as much as possible on high-pollution days. You can still air out your home when air pollution is low, but if you don't check your local AQI first, you could accidentally invite all kinds of outdoor pollution to enter your home.
When you do exercise outside or do other activities outdoors, you should try to schedule them for times when air pollution is the lowest; often this is in the earlier and later hours of the day. You should also try to keep your plans flexible, that way you can easily reschedule them if the air quality ends up being too poor.
It helps if you familiarize yourself with the air quality patterns in your area, including how pollution levels tend to change throughout the day. If you look up your local air quality report on airnow.com, you can also get a breakdown of recent hour-by-hour trends.
(Image text: To see data on pollution trends in your area, you can look up your local air quality report on airnow.gov and click the button “local trends.”)
If you have seasonal allergies, you should also avoid spending too much time outside when pollen levels are high. You can look up your city or zip code on pollen.com to get all kinds of helpful allergen information, including your local pollen report, future allergen forecasts, and a breakdown of the types of pollen most prevalent in your area.
Cleaning with Common Products
Studies show that many household cleaning products release harmful fumes and aerosols that irritate your lungs and even cause permanent lung function decline. Ammonia and bleach, for example, are both lung irritants that are used in a wide range of different cleaning products.
If you have COPD, you should try to limit your exposure to these and other lung irritants as much as you can to avoid triggering COPD symptoms and doing further, unnecessary damage to your lungs. Instead, choose products that don't contain strong chemicals like ammonia and bleach, and try to find products labeled as having reduced irritants, including fewer fragrances and VOC's.
You can use the EPA's safer chemical ingredient list for reference of what types of chemicals you should seek out and which ones you should avoid. You can also look for cleaning products with the EPA's “Safer Choice” label, or browse through the EPA's catalog of these products online.
Another alternative is to make your own cleaning solutions at home using common—and safer—household products like vinegar, water, baking soda, and soap. You'll find that most cleaning jobs don't require anything fancy and can be done with simple mixtures you can make yourself at home.
To learn more about how to make your own DIY cleaning products, check out this guide on how to reduce chemical irritants in your home. There, you'll step-by-step instructions for making alternatives to several different types of commercial cleaning products, including a scrubbing solution, all-purpose cleaner, and grease-cutting solution.
If you must use commercial cleaning products, at least try to avoid those that come in spray bottles or aerosol cans. Using a cloth or sponge with a liquid solution is generally much safer for your lungs than spraying a cleaning solution and scattering the harmful irritants into the air.
|Image from PiccoloNamek|
It's also important to note that cleaning products are not the only household products that can irritate your lungs. Other COPD triggers include fragrances (found in perfumes and personal care products), aerosol sprays (e.g. hair spray and air fresheners), household chemicals (e.g. insecticides, herbicides, and dry-clean carpet & upholstry products), and volatile organic compounds (found in detergents, adhesives, paint thinners, furniture polish, and more).
To learn about more about volatile organic compounds (also known as VOC's), including how to recognize them and how they can affect your COPD, check out our practical guide to avoiding VOC's.
Having a Poor Diet
A poor diet leads to poor nutrition and, in many cases, an unhealthy weight. All of these things would be bad for anybody's health, but they're an even bigger concern for people with chronic diseases like COPD.
First of all, if you have COPD, your lungs and the other organs that support them have to work extra hard to function. They also need extra fuel, which means if you don't get enough calories and nutrients from your diet, you may experience worsened breathlessness and fatigue.
A healthy diet is also important for maintaining a healthy BMI. And though BMI isn't a perfect indicator of health, it is a key indicator of your risk for a variety of different health complications, including complications related to COPD.
People with COPD who are underweight, for instance, tend to have worse respiratory function and have a higher risk of death. Unfortunately, due to breathlessness when eating, increased calorie needs, and other factors related to COPD, many people with severe COPD struggle to eat enough food and keep on the weight they need to stay healthy.
Being overweight or obese is also bad for your COPD; it makes it both harder to exercise—which is key for long-term health—and harder breathe. Studies show that obese COPD patients tend to have worse lung function, chest pain, breathlessness, and fatigue than non-obese COPD patients.
Being obese can also significantly increase your risk for more serious COPD complications such as cardiovascular disease and heart failure. On the other hand, losing weight can improve your COPD symptoms and reduce your risk for other chronic diseases.
Unfortunately, about 65% of people with COPD are overweight or obese, in part due to COPD symptoms like breathlessness and fatigue that cause many patients to avoid exercise. However, weight gain is just one of many consequences of living a sedentary lifestyle with COPD.
It's also important to note that both underweight and overweight people can be malnourished, which is why it's important to focus on what you eat, and not just how much. Experts recommend eating a varied diet that includes lots of nutrient-dense foods, including balanced portions of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and dairy.
You can learn more about what a healthy diet looks like and how to get proper nutrition for COPD in the following guides:
- What a Healthy Meal Looks Like for Someone With COPD, Including Versatile Meal Ideas You Can Try at Home
- Foods You Should Eat if You Have COPD
- Foods You Should Avoid if You Have COPD
If you're having trouble eating, losing weight, or maintaining a healthy BMI on your own, don't wait too long to discuss it with your doctor or a registered dietitian. A health and nutrition professional is the best person to if you need someone to help you re-evaluate your diet and come up with a better plan that supports your personal lifestyle and will help you meet your health goals.
|Image from Carol VanHook|
When COPD symptoms leave you feeling breathless and fatigued, exercise might feel like the last thing in the world you want to do. But though it can be tempting to spend most of your time resting or sitting around, that is actually one of the worst things you can do for your health.
Living a sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of physical decline in people with COPD. It's associated with worse COPD symptoms, reduced physical mobility, and an increased risk for death; it can also cause a variety other serious, chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, and more.
On the other hand, getting enough exercise provides a number of benefits for your mind and body in general as well as your COPD. It not only helps you maintain your muscle strength, mobility, and physical independence (which are all key factors in quality of life), but it also trains your heart and lungs to work more efficiently, which reduces strain on your respiratory system and makes it easier to breathe.
Experts agree that exercise and physical activity are both safe and beneficial for people with COPD, including those with advanced COPD and severe breathing symptoms. It's never a good idea to push yourself too hard, and you should always consult your doctor before making any major changes to your exercise routine; however, there are many ways to exercise safely with COPD, even if you have severe strength, endurance, or mobility limitations.
If you're not sure how to start exercising, or you're struggling to get into the habit on your own, don't be afraid to consult your doctor or an exercise professional for help. If you are eligible, you should consider joining a Pulmonary Rehabilitation class; if not, there are many other options, including personal trainers, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and other experts who are trained to help people with respiratory diseases.
One way to avoid falling into a sedentary lifestyle is to find an active hobby that you can truly enjoy and even look forward to doing. It doesn't need to be anything athletic or intense; light activities like gardening, walking, and stretching can provide many health benefits, and they're a great way to work more physical activity into your weekly routine.
Of course, you should also work in some dedicated, moderate physical activity too, including both cardio and strength training exercises. The most important thing, however, is to keep your body active and moving in whatever way you safely can, and that's something you can do no matter what physical ability level you're starting from.
If you'd like to learn more about COPD and physical activity, including some simple COPD-friendly exercises you can try on your own at home, check out the following guides:
- How to Exercise at Home with COPD
- Why Physical Activity is Important for People With COPD—And How You Can Get More of It
- ## Ideas for Active Hobbies You Can Do with COPD
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Using Your Inhaler Incorrectly
Your COPD inhalers are your lifeline; they not only help you control your symptoms, but they are an important part of keeping the disease stable in the long-term. However, you have to follow all the steps required to use your inhaler correctly in order for the medicine to work.
Unfortunately, inhalers can be tricky to use properly, and different types of inhalers require different steps and techniques. Because of this, many people fail to use their inhaler correctly, including as many as half of people with COPD.
To make sure you're getting the most that you can out of your inhaled medications, it's important to learn how to follow your inhaler's step-by-step instructions exactly. That means reading the instructions, practicing them carefully, and executing the proper technique every time you take a dose.
If you need help, you can always ask your doctor or pharmacist to demonstrate how to use it or to evaluate whether or not you're using correct technique. You can also review the instructions that come with your inhaler, read instructions on the inhaler manufacturer's website, or watch video demonstrations from health professionals in various places online.
Having Poor Sleep Posture
Bedtime is a difficult time for many people with COPD. Feeling short of breath can make it hard to get comfortable and fall asleep, and many people with COPD find it even more difficult to breathe when lying down.
As a result, many people with COPD suffer from a lack of good-quality sleep and develop unhealthy sleeping habits, such as sleeping upright in a chair or recliner. However, while sleeping upright can provide some relief from shortness of breath, it can actually hurt your sleep quality and cause other problems like stiffness and pain.
Luckily, there are other strategies you can use to reduce shortness of breath when you go to sleep. These strategies include medication, changing your bedtime habits, and using alternative sleeping positions (PDF link) that make it easier to sleep.
Experts generally discourage people with COPD from sleeping on their backs, because this position puts extra weight on your chest that can make it more difficult to breathe (especially if you are overweight). Because of this, it's often better to lie on your side, as it allows you to breathe more freely and helps you maintain a comfortable and healthy posture during the night.
For correct side-sleeping posture, you'll need an extra pillow (tucked between your knees) to support your hips and keep your spine properly aligned. You can also use the “high side lying” method to elevate your upper body; this position reduces shortness of breath while still allowing you to lie on your side in a position that's conducive to a good night's sleep.
It can take awhile to get used to a change in sleeping posture, but it can help you sleep better in the long run without making it any more difficult to breathe. For more information about proper sleeping posture and how to improve your sleep in general, check out our 13 Tips on How to Get A Better Night's Sleep with COPD or our Complete Guide to Sleeping with Oxygen.
Eating too Much at Mealtimes
If you tend to get breathless while you're eating or experience chest discomfort after you eat a meal, then you're definitely not alone. Many people with COPD experience increased symptoms both during and after eating, and for some patients it's so severe that they can't eat enough to avoid losing weight.
There are several different reasons why COPD symptoms can increase when you eat, including digestive problems like indigestion and GERD. However, another reason for mealtime-related breathing problems is eating too much too quickly, which can aggravate COPD symptoms in a few different ways.
First, a full belly can press up on your lungs, causing chest discomfort and pressure that makes it more difficult to breathe. Second, eating too quickly requires more exertion and leaves less time for steady breathing.
Third, too much food, or eating it too fast, is more likely to trigger uncomfortable symptoms like indigestion and bloating—both of which can make it more difficult to breathe. It's easier on your stomach if you eat smaller amounts of food more slowly, in addition to maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding fried and fatty foods.
One way to make eating easier on your COPD symptoms is to eat smaller portions of food throughout the day. For example, if you usually eat three square meals, you could break those down into five or six smaller meals instead.
If you struggle to breathe while you're eating, it's important to take it slow, making sure you take small bites and give yourself time to breathe deeply and steadily while you eat (similar to mindful eating). Try pausing between each bite to practice a breathing exercise (like pursed-lips breathing) to help keep shortness of breath under control.
Ignoring a Sleeping Disorder
|Image from Alyssa L. Miller|
Sleep apnea, insomnia, and other sleeping disorders are more common than you might think, and they are even more common in people with COPD. However, since the primary symptoms of sleeping disorders tend to happen while you're asleep, many people live for years without realizing that they have one.
Unfortunately, if left untreated, sleeping disorders can take a major huge toll on your health. Sleep apnea, for instance (a very common yet under-diagnosed sleep disorder) can not only cause severe sleep deprivation, but also causes lapses in breathing that can starve your body of oxygen while you sleep.
This makes sleep apnea particularly dangerous if you have COPD, since your lungs already have to struggle to take in enough oxygen when you breathe. Additional problems that affect your breathing—like lapses in breathing caused by sleep apnea—significantly increase the risk that your oxygen levels will fall during the night.
Having low blood oxygen levels at night can worsen COPD symptoms both while you're sleeping and throughout the next day. The lack of oxygen can also harm your body's organs (especially your heart, your brain, and your lungs), which can put you at risk for more serious health problems like heart disease, dementia, and pulmonary hypertension.
What's more, sleeping disorders deprive you of good-quality sleep, which is not only a miserable thing to experience, but also a significant health concern on its own. In the short term, lack of sleep takes a huge toll on your mood, mental health, and energy levels, and it can make your COPD symptoms worse; in the long-term, sleep deprivation can increase your risk for a range of serious health problems, including heart attack, dementia, and stroke.
That's why it's important to know how to identify the signs of a sleep disorder so you can recognize it and seek treatment as soon as the symptoms appear. Some sleep disorders can be diagnosed by your primary care doctor, but some may require additional tests—such as a sleep study or psychological evaluation—before you can get properly diagnosed.
|A CPAP machine is a common treatment for breathing problems caused by sleep apnea.|
To learn more about sleep apnea, which is one of the riskier sleep disorders to ignore, check out our guide to sleep apnea and COPD. There, you can learn more about sleep apnea symptoms, treatments, and what taking a sleep study is like.
Eating a High-Carb Diet
|Image from Anadama Bread|
Did you know that eating a diet that's high in carbohydrates can actually make your COPD symptoms worse? Well, it's true; a high-carb diet can actually put extra strain on the lungs and cause increased shortness of breath in people with COPD.
The reason for this has to do with how your body processes different types of nutrients; everything you eat produces a certain amount of carbon dioxide that has to be processed by your lungs. Research shows that eating carbohydrates produces more carbon dioxide (PDF link) than eating other nutrients like proteins and fats.
Carbon dioxide is a waste product that is expelled from your body by your lungs each and every time you exhale. Because of this, the more carbon dioxide your body has to get rid of, the harder your lungs have to work.
This fact leads some experts to advise COPD patients to eat a low-carb, high-fat diet and limit their carbohydrate intake to the lowest levels suggested by most dietary recommendations. Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your diet or if you have any other dietary concerns.
Ignoring Changes in Your Symptoms
Though COPD symptoms do tend to fluctuate over time, these fluctuations can be important indicators of your health. For instance, moderate increases in symptoms can signal an oncoming exacerbation, and sudden increases in symptoms could signal a medical emergency.
This is why it's important to pay attention to what your COPD symptoms feel like and keep track of how they change from day to day. This is an important part of using your COPD action plan and it can help you anticipate complications—like COPD exacerbations—that you can often catch early if you notice your symptoms starting to get worse.
If you ever have a sudden or severe worsening of symptoms, it's important not to ignore it because it could be a sign that you need urgent medical help. Don't hesitate to call your doctor if something seems wrong and certainly don't wait to seek emergency medical care if you experience following symptoms:
- Unexplained or severe chest pain
- Severe difficulty breathing that doesn't go away with medication or rest
- A blue-ish tint to your lips, fingertips, or toes.
For more information about how to recognize a medical emergency if you have COPD, check out this guide from VeryWell Health.
|Image from Whoisjohngalt|
Getting vaccinated against respiratory illnesses is an important part of taking care of your health, just like eating a healthy diet or taking your medications on time. Not only are vaccinations safe, but they can literally save your life by preventing illnesses and lung infections that can be deadly to people with chronic diseases like COPD.
Even if you've gotten all your childhood vaccinations, you will need additional vaccinations as you get older. For example, experts recommend a second dose of the pneumococcal vaccine—the vaccine that prevents several types of pneumonia—for people over the age of 65 as well as older adults with chronic diseases.
You should also be diligent about getting your influenza vaccine every fall, which offers a significant amount of protection (though not full protection) from the seasonal flu. Though it might seem inconvenient to have to get vaccinated again each year, flu shots are available at pretty much any pharmacy, doctor's office, and health clinic for $15 or less (or free with insurance).
When a minor respiratory illnesses can quickly cause severe and life-threatening complications, it's worth doing everything you can to prevent yourself from getting sick. That means getting all recommended vaccinations on time, as well as practicing impeccable hygiene—especially in these dangerous and uncertain times with viruses like COVID-19.
Using a Fireplace or Wood-Burning Stove
When you have COPD, you should generally stay away from all sources of fire and combustion, which universally create toxic fumes and tiny airborne particulates that harm your lungs. However, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are particularly dangerous because they release these pollutants indoors, where they build up and linger inside your home.
Even the most efficient, well-sealed, and professionally-installed wood-burning stoves still release small amounts of smoke and pollutants into the air. A good rule of thumb is that if you can smell the fire or smoke inside your home at all, then you can be sure that dangerous respiratory toxins are making it indoors too.
Over time, these pollutants accumulate in the indoor air, where you breathe them in constantly whenever you're at home. Because of this, people who are prone to lung irritation and damage (PDF link)—which obviously includes people with COPD—should never use a wood-burning appliance to heat their homes.
On the other hand, using a fireplace or barbecue grill occasionally isn't likely to cause any long-term damage, though it can make your COPD symptoms worse in the short-term. Considering that COPD is all about managing symptoms and preventing lung inflammation that could put you at risk for exacerbations, it's still a good idea to put keep your distance from any activity that involves smoke.
To learn more about the dangers of wood-burning stoves for people with COPD, or how to minimize your risk if a wood-burning appliance is your only source of heat at home, check out our practical guide on those topics here.
Conclusion: Looking Out for Respiratory Hazards Means Looking Out for Your Health
We know that reading a long list of things that people with COPD can't do is not exactly uplifting, but it's an important part of learning how to take care of yourself and manage your disease. Respiratory hazards and unhealthy lifestyle habits are no joke, and they can significantly affect your ability to live a good quality of life and maintain control over your COPD symptoms.
The good news is that once you've familiarized yourself with these hazards and learned some practical strategies to avoid them, you don't have to dwell on them anymore. Once you've got the essentials down, you can stop focusing on what you shouldn't do and switch to focusing on what you can do, instead.
The more you know about COPD and how to protect your lungs, the quicker you can adjust to living a healthy and lung-safe lifestyle with your disease. Over time, all these “dos and don'ts” will start to feel more natural and you'll find that it's easier to focus on the other thing you want and need to live a happy, fulfilling life.