Ask the Doctor: COPD

Q. I have COPD. What are some ways I can avoid flare-ups?

A. Many Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients experience days-long episodes of shortness of breath, coughing, and increased phlegm. COPD exacerbations like these most often occur at home, and they usually lead to frequent use of bronchodilators (medicines that open the airways), impaired lung function, and poor quality of life. More severe COPD exacerbations may require use of inhaled steroid medications and antibiotics, and sometimes may even lead to hospitalization.MichaelHS

To prevent flare-ups or keep from exacerbating them, patients should avoid heavy and long-term exposure to various lung irritants, including air pollution, dust, chemical fumes in the workplace, and secondhand smoke. Here are some tips to reduce your exposure to COPD-causing irritants:

• if you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, make sure it’s well-ventilated
• stay indoors if the air outdoors is polluted (e.g., there is smog or a wildfire nearby)
• make your home an environment free from secondhand smoke

If you work in an environment where you’re exposed to chemical fumes and dust, speak with your supervisor about respiratory protective equipment and other ways to protect yourself. While life with COPD can be challenging, your quality of life can be improved through a host of treatment options personalized to your case with the help of a physician or pulmonary medicine specialist.