Expert Answers: Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

One of our COPD.net community members brought up an important topic…

“Staying healthy during the cold and flu season is so hard. Do you have any ideas on dealing with this for parents that have COPD?”

So we asked our experts! Check out what they had to say…

Response from John

This is a great question, as kids, especially the littlest ones, are good germ spreaders. It’s often recommended that people with COPD stay away from kids that are sick, but this is not possible when they are your own kids. I think a good place to start is to make sure you get your yearly flu and pneumonia vaccinations. On top of that, make sure to avoid touching your nose and mouth, and wash your hands frequently. If you start to feel symptoms, make sure to call your doctor right away so you can get treated early.

My experience with kids, even the littlest ones, is that you can talk to them and explain to them things that are important to you.

Even if they don’t seem to be paying attention, sometimes they really are. I think you can talk to them about how you can get very sick if you catch a cold. So, it’s very important for them cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough, and to wash their hands after they sneeze, cough, or touch their mouths or noses. My little boy was four-years-old and he was pretty good about covering his mouth and keeping clean. He wasn’t perfect, but he tried. So, I think kids are pretty smart that way.

Response from Leon

Winter time and its characteristic cold weather, which typically brings on the cold and flu season, can be especially challenging for people with COPD. Quite simply, cold weather worsens respiratory problems. Cold air can trigger bronchial spasms and shortness of breath. The exertion of walking in winter wind and inhaling outdoor pollutants can intensify COPD symptoms.1-4

There are, however, several ways to proactively help to pre-empt any exacerbations associated with the winter season and COPD flare-ups.

Here are some suggestions:1-4

  • Stay current and compliant with your COPD treatment regimen. When your COPD is well managed, you are less likely to have an exacerbation, even if you get sick with a cold or the flu.
  • Flu shot. Get your flu shot as early as they become available. Also, consult with your physician about getting a vaccination for pneumonia to help to reduce your risk of infection.
  • Avoid people who are sick. This may seem obvious but it doesn’t mean you must hide all winter. In most cases, common sense should prevail. Don’t socialize with the friend who has a cold and certainly don’t plan to visit or volunteer at your children’s/grandchildren’s elementary school events until the warmer weather returns.
  • Wash your hands. This clichéd advice is still your best strategy for staying healthy. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you know your hands are clean. Carry antimicrobial hand sanitizer for times when you don’t have access to soap and water. And, never feel embarrassed about asking your doctor or nurse to wash their hands before examining you; it is considered the gold standard of prevention and care.
  • Warm and humidify the air. Cold air can be a trigger for COPD symptoms and/or exacerbations. When you’re outside, doing something as simple as wrapping a clean scarf over your mouth and nose will assist your upper airway in keeping the air warm and moist. Again, let common sense prevail. If you don’t have to go out, then don’t.
  • Keep Oxygen Tubing Warm. If you use supplemental oxygen, you may have noticed that the oxygen becomes colder when you go outside in cold weather. Take proactive steps to keep your lungs warm by keeping your oxygen tubing under warm clothing. Your body heat will help keep the oxygen from becoming so cold. This is a little known bit of advice, but goes a very long way in the cold, winter months.
  • Drink lots of water. COPD makes you work hard to breathe. If you have a respiratory infection on top of that, you’ll be working even harder. We expel moisture with every breath. All this means you may get dehydrated rather quickly. Drink lots of water, whether or not you’re sick.
  • Limit indoor pollutants. Heating your home during the wintertime can generate lung irritants, especially wood smoke from the fireplace, kerosene, scented candles and incense. Since it’s too cold to open the window to help to air the house out, try to cut down on indoor sources of pollution.

Following these suggestions (above) may be of genuine value to help you get through the seasonal cold weather without experiencing a worsening of your COPD symptoms.

Response from Lyn

Staying healthy this time of year is a challenge for anyone with children. That challenge increases for parents that have COPD. Here are a few practical suggestions for remaining as sickness-free as possible. Some of it may seem fairly obvious, but we all can use a reminder now and then.

  • Wash your hands all the time! If you aren’t always in a place where soap and water are available, keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer nearby. I have one in my purse, on my desk, and in my car.
  • Teach your children to sneeze and cough into their elbows instead of their hands.
  • You’d be surprised how many times a day we unconsciously touch our eyes, nose, and mouth with our (unwashed) hands. Try to be aware of this and avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Try to get as much exercise as you’re able to.
  • Same goes for fresh air – climate can be a trial, depending on where you live, but nonetheless, try to get out a little each day.
  • If you can, open a window or two each morning for 5 or 10 minutes to bring fresh air into the house, particularly in bedrooms.
  • Get your rest!
  • Try to eat a healthy diet – this is important for the whole family to stay healthy. Plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • If your doctor suggests it, get the pneumonia shot as well.

How do YOU deal with cold and flu season? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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