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COPD: 8 Ways to Avoid Infections
Patients with COPD must be extra careful to prevent infections that could affect their lungs.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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Each year, adults typically get two to four cases of the cold or flu. While getting sick isn’t fun for anyone, for people who have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), avoiding infections such as colds and the flu takes on special importance, because these illnesses can harm their lungs and possibly cause pneumonia.
The Importance of Staying Healthy With COPD
Staying healthy is important for COPD patients because being infected with viruses, bacteria, and other infectious organisms can make you more susceptible to getting lung infections, which can lead to breathing difficulties. When you have a lung infection, your shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, and other COPD symptoms can quickly get worse. And when you have any type of respiratory infection, there is a chance it could progress to pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
Tips to Prevent Infections
Here are eight tips that can help you reduce your risk of developing an infection:
- Wash your hands.Regular hand-washing is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of infection. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially when you are around a lot of people (for example, in a hospital or doctor's office, or at school or work).
- Avoid infections."Stay away from people who you know have an infection," says Richard D. Logan, PT, BS, MPT, director of rehabilitation services at National Jewish Health in Denver. Ask people who are sick not to visit until they are well again, and wear a face mask if you do have to come in contact with someone who has an infection.
- Clear your airways."COPD patients should make sure they keep their airways open and clear of mucus," says Logan. Your doctor can provide you with devices and your respiratory therapist can teach you maneuvers that can make your coughing more productive, which helps to clear your airways.
- Stay hydrated.Logan says drinking plenty of fluids is part of practicing good bronchiole hygiene, which can reduce your risk of infection. Bronchioles are small airways deep in the lungs.
- Clean your equipment.All equipment that you use, including humidifiers, oxygen masks, and flutter valves, should be properly cleaned and maintained to ensure that they don't harbor infectious organisms.
- Get vaccinated.Talk with your doctor about which vaccines you should get. In general, people with COPD should get a pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar) once, as well as a flu vaccine every year. Revaccination for pneumococcal disease is controversial, but it may be right for you. Talk to your doctor to find out.
- Stay away from crowds.When possible, avoid large crowds, especially during cold and flu season. For example, "go to the store when it is less busy," says Phyllis Dibbern, PT, physical therapist at National Jewish Health, who has more than 30 years of experience in pulmonary rehabilitation.
- Treat infections as early as possible.Call your doctor at the first sign of infection, so it can be treated before it progresses to a more serious infection of your lungs. "When COPD patients notice a change in color of their sputum from white or clear to yellow or dark, they should go to their doctor before a major infection develops," says Dibbern.
Avoiding infections doesn't mean that you have to live in a bubble. You can still lead a normal, productive life when you have COPD, but you just need to take some extra precautions to protect yourself from getting sick. There is no way to completely prevent an infection, but by following these simple guidelines, you can increase your chances of staying healthy.
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