Lifestyle Changes Overview

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015.

How can lifestyle changes help patients manage COPD?

Lifestyle changes can help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reduce their risk of getting infections. This is very important because infections are the most common cause of acute exacerbations, which are also called COPD flare-ups. Flare-ups happen when COPD symptoms suddenly get much worse, and cannot be relieved with the patient’s regular medications or other therapies. COPD flare-ups can harmful to a patient’s lungs, and sometimes require treatment in the hospital.

What kinds of lifestyle changes can help prevent infections?

During a pulmonary rehabilitation program, patients learn about several kinds of lifestyle changes that can help them to avoid infections and flare-ups. Some of these changes include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding allergens and irritants
  • Vaccinations
  • Practicing good hygiene

Why is quitting smoking an important lifestyle change?

For COPD patients who smoke, quitting is the most effective thing they can do to manage the disease. Quitting smoking can:

  • Improve COPD symptoms
  • Reduce the risk of COPD flare-ups
  • Slow the progress of the disease

As part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program, patients can get help and support in their efforts to quit smoking. Medications, counseling, and social support are all strategies that can help a person break the habit for good.

Why is avoiding allergens and irritants important for COPD patients?

Allergens and irritants are tiny particles in the air, and breathing them in can make COPD symptoms worse and increase the risk of flare-ups. Common allergens include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Mold

Not every COPD patient will be sensitive to allergens or to every type of allergen. But for those who are sensitive to certain allergens, being exposed to them can worsen COPD symptoms.

Common irritants include:

  • Dirty or wet rugs/carpets can gather dust, dirt, and mold
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Pesticides
  • Chemicals in strong cleaning products
  • Paint fumes
  • Air pollution outdoors
  • Burning fuel indoors (such as coal, wood, oil, gas, or kerosene)
  • Asbestos
  • Radon and carbon monoxide
  • Strongly scented soaps or fragrances

There are many steps that COPD patients can take to reduce the amount of allergens and irritants that they breathe in the home, the workplace, and outdoors. This can help them control their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Why do COPD patients need vaccinations?

For people with COPD, respiratory infections such as the flu and pneumonia can be dangerous. These kinds of infections can cause severe COPD flare-ups and may even be life-threatening. For this reason, patients with COPD should get vaccinations for the flu and pneumonia. Vaccines are a safe and effective way for COPD patients to strongly reduce their risk of getting these illnesses.

It is important to get the flu vaccine every year, because the type of flu going around changes from year to year. Last year’s vaccine may not be effective against this year’s flu. The pneumonia vaccine is usually given every 5-7 years.

Why is it important for COPD patients to practice good hygiene?

Practicing good hygiene is a simple but effective way for COPD patients to reduce their risk of getting infections. During a pulmonary rehabilitation program, patients learn about good hygiene practices including:

  • Hand washing frequently and thoroughly
  • Cleaning medical equipment regularly, such as inhalers, masks, nebulizers, spacers, and humidifiers
  • Maintaining good dental health

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