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Learning About COPD, Asthma, and Air Pollution

Lungs in chest showing bronchial tubes in left lung, with detail of healthy airway and airway narrowed by asthma

How does air pollution affect COPD and asthma?

When you have COPD or asthma, air pollution may make your symptoms worse. If it does, it means that air pollution is a trigger for you.

It is important to know what your triggers are and how to deal with them. If air pollution is a trigger for you, you need to learn about air quality and pay attention to weather forecasts that include how bad the air is expected to be.

How can you manage a flare-up caused by air pollution?

  • Don't panic. Quick treatment at home may help you prevent serious breathing problems.
  • Take your medicines exactly as your doctor tells you.
    • Use your quick-relief inhaler as directed by your doctor. If your symptoms don't get better after you use your medicine, have someone take you to the emergency room. Call an ambulance if necessary.
    • With inhaled medicines, a spacer will help you get more medicine to your lungs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to use it the right way. Practice using the spacer in front of a mirror before you have a flare-up. This may help you get the medicine into your lungs quickly.
    • If your doctor has given you corticosteroid pills, take them as directed.
    • Talk to your doctor if you have any problems with your medicine.

How can you prevent flare-ups?

  • Try not to be outside when air pollution levels are high. Stay at home with your windows closed.
  • Don't smoke or vape. This is the most important step you can take to prevent more damage to your lungs and prevent problems. If you already smoke or vape, it's never too late to stop. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Take your daily medicines as prescribed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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