People with COPD have difficulty clearing their lungs of bacteria, dusts and other pollutants in the air. This makes them at risk for lung infections that may cause further damage to the lungs.
Therefore, it is important to watch for signs of infection and follow these tips to help prevent infections. You will probably not be able to avoid infections entirely, but these tips will help you prevent infections as much as possible.
What can I do to prevent infections?
If visitors have cold or flu symptoms, ask them not to visit until they are feeling well.
- Keep your house clean and free from excess dust. Keep your bathrooms and sinks free from mold or mildew.
- Do not work in or visit any form of construction site. Dust can be harmful. If you absolutely must go near this type of area, wear a mask provided by your doctor.
- Avoid air pollution, including tobacco smoke, wood or oil smoke, car exhaust fumes and industrial pollution which can cause inhaled irritants to enter your lungs. Also, avoid pollen.
- Make sure your cooking vent is working properly so cooking fumes can be drawn out of the house.
- If possible, try to stay away from large crowds in the fall and winter when the flu season is at its peak.
- Keep breathing equipment clean.
- Do not let others use your medical equipment, including: oxygen cannula, metered dose inhaler (MDI), MDI spacer, nebulizer tubing and mouthpiece.
- Try to eat a balanced diet. Good nutrition is important to help the body resist infection. Eat foods from all the food groups.
- Drink plenty of fluids - at least six to eight 8oz glasses (170-230ml) per day (unless your doctor gives you other guidelines). Water, juices and sports drinks are best.
Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water, especially before preparing food, eating, taking medications or breathing treatments; and after coughing or sneezing, using the bathroom, touching soiled linens or clothes, and after you've been around someone with a cold or the flu as well as after you've been at a social gathering. It is also good to carry waterless hand sanitizers with you to use when necessary.
Other general health guidelines
- Do not rub your eyes, as this can transmit germs to your nasal passages via the tear ducts.
- Quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke (the smoke from a burning cigarette or cigar and the smoke exhaled by a smoker) are important steps you can take to protect your lungs from infection.
- Follow your doctor's medication guidelines.
- Get enough sleep and rest.
- Manage your stress!
- Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about getting a flu shot every year and get the pneumonia vaccine if you have not had one.
- Be careful to avoid infection when traveling. In areas where the water might be unsafe, drink bottled water or other beverages (order beverages without ice). Swim only in chlorinated pools.
When should I call my doctor?
Call your doctor if you experience any of the warning signs of an infection (listed below). Also, call your doctor if you have any symptoms that cause concern.
Warning signs of infection
While most infections can be successfully treated, you must be able to recognize an infection's immediate symptoms for proper and effective care.
- Increased shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or wheezing
- Coughing up increased amounts of mucus
- Yellow- or green-colored mucus (may or may not be present)
- Fever over 38.3°C (101°F) or chills (may or may not be present)
- Increased fatigue or weakness
- Sore throat, scratchy throat or pain when swallowing
- Unusual sinus drainage, nasal congestion, headaches or tenderness along upper cheekbones
If you have any of these symptoms, contact your physician right away, even if you don't feel sick.
The lungs of people with COPD are sensitive to certain irritating substances in the air, such as: cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, strong perfumes, cleaning products, paint/varnish, dust, pollen, pet dander and air pollution. Extreme cold or hot weather conditions can also irritate your lungs.
You can avoid some of these irritants by:
- Asking those around you not to smoke.
- Sitting in non-smoking sections of public places.
- Requesting smoke-free hotel rooms and rental cars.
- Avoiding underground parking garages.
- Avoiding high traffic or industrialized areas.
- Not using perfumes, scented lotions or other highly scented products that may irritate your lungs.
- Using non-aerosol cleaning or painting products in well-ventilated areas and wearing a mask or handkerchief over your mouth when cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, sweeping) or working in the yard.
- Reducing exposure to dust by regularly changing filters on heaters and air conditioners and using a dehumidifier.
- Keeping pets out of the house, especially if you wheeze.
- Using an exhaust fan when cooking to remove smoke and odors.
- Staying indoors when the outside air quality is poor and pollen counts are high.
- Following weather reports and avoiding extreme weather. During cold weather, cover your face when going outdoors. During extreme humidity, try to stay in air-conditioned areas.