Learning About COPD Triggers

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What are triggers?

The lungs

When you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), certain things can make your symptoms worse. These are called triggers. They include:

  • Cigarette smoke or air pollution.
  • Illnesses like colds, flu, or pneumonia.
  • Cleaning supplies or other chemicals.
  • Gases, particles, or fumes from wood or kerosene home heaters.

Not all people have the same triggers. What may cause symptoms in one person may not be a problem for another person.

How do triggers affect COPD?

Triggers can make it harder for your lungs to work as they should and can lead to sudden difficulty breathing and other symptoms. When you are around a trigger, a COPD flare-up is more likely. If your symptoms are severe, you may need emergency treatment or have to go to the hospital for treatment.

If you know what your triggers are and can avoid them, you can reduce how often you have flare-ups and how much COPD affects your life. It's also important to be active and to take your daily medicines as prescribed. This helps prevent flare-ups too.

What can you do to avoid triggers?

The first thing is to know your triggers.

When you are having symptoms, note the things around you that might be causing them. Then look for patterns in what may be triggering your symptoms. When you have your list of possible triggers, work with your doctor to find ways to avoid them.

Here are some ways to avoid a few common triggers.

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If there is a lot of pollution, pollen, or dust outside, stay at home and keep your windows closed. Use an air conditioner or air filter in your home. Check your local weather report or newspaper for air quality and pollen reports.
  • Get the influenza (flu) vaccine every year. Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumococcal shot. Wash your hands often to prevent infections.

How can you manage a flare-up?

Do not panic if you start to have a COPD flare-up.

  • If you have a COPD action plan, follow the plan. In general:
    • Use your quick-relief inhaler as directed by your doctor. If your symptoms do not get better after you use your medicine, have someone take you to the emergency room. Call an ambulance if needed.
    • Use a spacer with your metered-dose inhaler (MDI). If you have a nebulizer for inhaled medicine, use it. A spacer or nebulizer may help get more medicine to your lungs.
    • If your doctor has given you other inhaled medicines or steroid pills, take them as directed.
    • If your doctor has given you a prescription for antibiotics, fill it if you need to.
    • Call your doctor if you have to use your antibiotic or steroid pills.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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