Learning About COPD and Upper Respiratory Infections

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What are upper respiratory infections?

Picture of lungs

An upper respiratory infection, also called a URI, is an infection of the nose, sinuses, or throat. Viruses or bacteria can cause URIs. Colds, the flu, and sinusitis are examples of URIs. These infections are spread by coughs, sneezes, and close contact.

How do these infections affect COPD?

A URI can worsen COPD symptoms, such as having too much mucus in your lungs, coughing, or being short of breath.

What can you do to manage most infections at home?

  • Do not smoke. Avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Be careful when taking over-the-counter cold or flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not taking more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Ask your doctor about cough medicines and decongestants. Some doctors recommend these medicines, while others feel that they do not help.
  • Learn breathing techniques for COPD, such as breathing through pursed lips. These techniques can help you breathe easier.

What can you do to prevent these infections?

Stay healthy

  • Do not smoke. This is the most important step you can take to prevent more damage to your lungs. 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, air pollution, and high altitudes. Also avoid cold, dry air and hot, humid air. Stay at home with your windows closed when air pollution is bad.
  • Get a flu shot every fall.
  • Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need a second dose.
  • If you must be around people with colds or the flu, wash your hands often.

Exercise and eat well

  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for at least 2½ hours a week.
  • Eat regular, well-balanced meals. Eating right keeps your energy levels up and helps your body fight infection.
  • Get plenty of rest and sleep.

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 call line 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?

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

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Current as of: March 25, 2017