Practicing Good Hygiene

Why do COPD patients need to practice good hygiene?

For patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), getting an infection can make their breathing symptoms much worse. Infections are also the most common cause of acute exacerbations, which are also called COPD flare-ups. These happen when COPD symptoms suddenly get much worse and may require hospitalization to treat.

Good hygiene includes habits and practices that help maintain a person’s health and prevent diseases from spreading. Many infections and diseases are caused by germs, such as bacteria and viruses. Germs can be spread by:

  • Touching a person who is carrying infectious germs
  • Touching a surface that a person with germs has recently touched
  • Breathing in germs in the air

As part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program, COPD patients learn about how to practice good hygiene and reduce the risk of infections. These practices may include:

  • How and when to wash hands
  • Cleaning equipment properly
  • Good dental hygiene

How can good hand-washing habits reduce the risk of infections?1,2,3

Frequent and thorough hand washing with soap and warm water is a simple and very effective way for COPD patients to avoid many types of infections. The first step is to get in the habit of hand washing in the following situations:

  • When hands are dirty
  • After using the toilet
  • After touching another person
  • After coughing, sneezing, or nose-blowing
  • Before and after making food
  • After eating, drinking, or smoking

COPD patients should be extra careful about hand washing if they spend time in the following places:

  • Healthcare settings such as clinics, hospitals, or doctor’s office
  • Schools
  • Workplaces
  • Crowded areas such as malls, airports, or airplanes

Other tips that can reduce the risk of infection include:

  • Avoid using your hands to touch the eyes, nose or mouth
  • Avoid being in large crowds or crowded, poorly ventilated areas
  • Avoid being around people who are sick
  • Avoid sneezing or coughing into your hand – use a tissue or the crook of your elbow instead

What is good hand-washing technique?4

Many people do not wash their hands in the right way, or for as long as they should. A good technique to follow is:

  • Run warm water
  • Wet your hands
  • Add soap
  • Rub hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds
  • Make sure to clean the backs of the hands, wrists, between fingers, and under the nails
  • Rinse well in warm water
  • Take a single-use paper towel while the water is still running
  • Dry hands
  • Use the paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door

Hand sanitizers that contain alcohol are good for using in addition to hand washing, but they are not a replacement for good hand-washing habits.

Why is cleaning healthcare equipment important?2

Many COPD patients use different kinds of medical equipment, such as:

  • Oxygen therapy masks and nasal cannulas
  • Nebulizers
  • Inhalers
  • Flutter valves
  • Spacers
  • Humidifiers

If they are not cleaned regularly, these kinds of equipment can develop organisms that can cause infections. It is very important to follow the instructions for cleaning the equipment carefully to help prevent these organisms from growing.

Why is good dental health important?5

A recent study found that COPD patients who had poor dental hygiene were more likely to have COPD flare-ups. The types of poor dental health that they studied were:

  • Large amounts of plaque on the teeth
  • Less time spent tooth brushing
  • Having fewer teeth

This means that practicing good dental habits is another way that COPD patients can help to manage their disease. Good dental habits include:

  • Brushing regularly and for a long enough time
  • Flossing daily
Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2015.
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