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Common COPD Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Oct 23, 2017

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) means looking out for triggers that make it worse. A trigger is anything in your environment that makes you cough, wheeze, sneeze, feel short of breath, or fatigue easily. Here’s a list of common triggers - some of which may surprise you.


Trigger #1: Smoke

Your doctor has probably told you that if you smoke, you should quit right away. Cigarette smoking makes COPD much worse. But what about other types of smoke?

Fireplace, wood stove, and fire pit smoke can also be COPD triggers - something to keep in mind as you snuggle up around the fireplace in cold weather. Although smoke from controlled fires can be invisible, it can still catch in your throat and make COPD symptoms worse.

Trigger #2: The Air in Your Home

Air that is full of chemicals, allergens, or odors can be very dangerous for someone with COPD. Make sure your home has an air filter and humidifier to reduce dust and air pollen. Vacuum and dust frequently to cut down on airborne irritants.

Household air is affected by many things in the home that can give off chemicals and microscopic particles. Here’s a short list of things to avoid having in your home:

  • Harsh chemicals. Use natural cleaners instead.
  • Perfumes and scented body products.
  • Candles, oil burners, and incense.
  • Scented decor items, like potpourri and wreaths.
  • Strong cooking smells, like onions and spices.
  • Paint fumes.
  • Fresh carpeting, which is coated with chemicals.
  • Smog from outdoors.

Trigger #3: Illness

When you get sick with a cold or the flu, your COPD issues will likely get worse. You may experience painful coughing, infections, or extreme exhaustion. This is what COPD experts call acute exacerbation: an intense flare-up of COPD symptoms.

The COPD Foundation gives the following tips to avoid acute exacerbation:

  • Get regular health checkups, even when you feel fine.
  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Ask about getting a pneumonia and pertussis shot.
  • Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water.
  • Carry hand sanitizer for times when you can’t wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose in public.
  • Avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
  • Carry your own pen for signing things in public.
  • Stay hydrated, especially in extreme temperatures.

Trigger #4: Lack of Sleep

Did you know that poor sleep is a COPD trigger, and also quite common for those with COPD? About 50 percent of COPD patients report significant trouble sleeping. People with COPD are also more likely to develop insomnia, nightmares and daytime sleepiness than the general population.

Lack of sleep makes you more likely to become ill, suffer from the effects of stress hormones, and struggle to cope with COPD symptoms. The Lung Institute offers this advice:

  • Ask your doctor about medications that may be interfering with sleep.
  • Sleep in a slightly inclined position.
  • Remove TVs and other devices from your sleeping space.
  • Get moderate exercise daily.
  • Avoid caffeine and don’t go to bed hungry.
  • Use nighttime oxygen therapy with the guidance of a doctor.

Trigger #5: Cold Weather

Have you ever stepped outdoors into cold weather, and your breath catches in your throat? This can be a trigger for COPD, creating sudden coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Your body may react by creating thick mucus in the throat, which can lead to blockages in the lungs.

As chilly weather arrives, take care to move slowly and breathe carefully as you transition from warm to cold air, and vice versa. Wear a scarf around your neck that can be used to blunt the impact of sudden cold wind.

When you take care to avoid triggers, living with COPD can be much more manageable.

If you have further questions about COPD or other health issues, reach out to Johnson Memorial Healthl today.

Topics: COPD