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Avoiding COPD Triggers

Expert Answers: Avoiding COPD Triggers

One thing people can do to stay healthier and decrease the risk of COPD flare-ups is to avoid contact with irritants that trigger exacerbations. At, we understand that avoiding triggers can be quite a challenge, so we asked our experts John, Leon, and Lyn to share their advice on the following question:

How do I avoid things that trigger my COPD?

Response from John
The first thing to do is learn what might trigger your COPD. It can be a simple as a common allergen (dust, pollen, mold, fungus, animals), strong smells such as those from household cleaners, high humidity, or even something as complicated as air pollution. You need to learn what exactly sets off your COPD flare-ups so you know what to avoid. For example, if dogs trigger your COPD, you can easily keep them out of your home. If high humidity bothers your COPD, you can purchase an air conditioner. If strong smells bother your COPD, avoid the laundry row at shopping centers.

Response from Leon
Not all patients are subject to the same irritants. What causes a flare up in one patient may not cause a flare up in another. Each patient should understand which specific triggers affect them individually.

Triggers or irritants can include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Smoking,
  • Infections (like a cold or flu),
  • Strong odors or fumes (like car exhausts, colognes and perfumes),
  • Air pollution and smog,
  • Changes in weather, very cold or very humid air, and
  • Stress or anxiety.

Once you know what triggers a flare up, the key is to avoid the irritants. This is seemingly obvious but not always easy to accomplish. Understanding your condition and taking it seriously will assist in the desire to avoid flare-ups and thereby steer clear of triggers.

Suggested Guidelines:

  • Do not smoke (or try to quit smoking). Stay away from places where people are smoking. Avoid smoke from cooking.
  • Try not to spend time with people who have a cold, sore throat, the flu, or pneumonia. Ask your physician about getting flu and pneumonia shots.
  • If possible, try not to sit in traffic or go outdoors where there are air pollution alerts.
  • In cold weather, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. Breathe through your nose.
  • In hot, humid weather or days with smog, stay indoors. Stay in air conditioned rooms when possible.
  • Don’t breathe in fumes from perfumes, paint or cleaning products. Avoid breathing in dust.
  • Learn ways to relax and avoid stress.

Response from Lyn
Everyone has different triggers, so it’s important to determine what yours are. Air pollution, smoking, a developing infection, or changes in weather are just a few that might prompt an exacerbation of your COPD. Obviously, some can be avoided while others cannot. So, avoid the ones you can and be prepared to deal with the ones you can’t. As soon as you notice symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, or coughing seek treatment. It may be as simple as taking an extra nebulizer or it may prompt a visit to your physician.

How about you? Do you have specific ways of avoiding your COPD triggers? Please feel free to tell the community by sharing your comments below!


  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    It’s our pleasure, Gale1852. Thanks for letting us know the incline pillow combined with your increasing your nebulizer treatments has worked so well for you. Keep up the good work. I’m sure you’ll find more out about the Trilogy unit as you continue to do your research.
    Wishing you the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Gale1852
    2 years ago

    This very question is why I came to the site today! I am having such a hard time breathing, O2 was 88% when I woke at 7. Rescue hardly helps any more, I use 2 different ones. So atter those, 2 different meds on nebulizer, 2 prednisone, 1 daliresp, O2 up to 96% at 10am. I’ve noticed its getting harder and harder to breath in summer especially when humidity is high. I have ac, dehumidifier, Himalayan salt lamp, medications. Dr ordered testing, will be done 8/2, hopefully to add something for nite help. I’m going to set alarm to wake me up every 3-4hrs to use inhaler, see if that might help with my mornings. Honestly, it is super scary because I can’t get my breath! Any other ideas I might try would be appreciated!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Gale1852 and thanks for your post. It sounds like you’re doing everything you can to manage your difficulty breathing with COPD. The prescribed medications, air conditioning, and remaining compliant are all accepted practice for your condition. If you are able to manage while you wait to for the completion of the physician ordered testing, it’s possible the test results may warrant a change in your treatment regimen. However, if all these symptoms you describe persist and get worse, you may need to see the physician sooner than 8/2. We hear that you are anxious – do you have a support system that can assist you? Wishing you well. Leon (site moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Gale1852 – it sounds like you’re really doing everything you should be. It may be you need your meds adjusted or tweeked a little. Hopefully you’ll find that out when you go on the 2nd. What about sleeping propped up on a couple of pillows? Have you tried that? I would guess taking at least one nebulizer in the middle of the night will be helpful. Be sure you tell your doctor though about the increased need for meds – that’s very important.

    Please let us know how you make out at your appointment.

    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Gale1852
    2 years ago

    Thanks to Leon and Lyn for replying. I just purchased an incline pillow and have been using about 7 days now. I believe it’s helping while sleeping. Just don’t know why I waited so long to get one! Also, waking in middle of nite to use inhaler, really has helped a lot! Instead of not having it for 7-8hrs, I’m using it approximately every 4hrs. So far my O2 levels when waking have been about 95% instead of 88%! Still no info from others about Trilogy machine, but continue my own research. Great day to all!

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