COPD and Allergies: Avoiding Pollutants and Allergens
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COPD and Allergies: Avoiding Pollutants and Allergens

Overview

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. If you have COPD, it’s important to take steps to avoid triggers that can make your symptoms worse. For example, smoke, chemical fumes, air pollution, high ozone levels, and cold air temperatures may aggravate your symptoms.

Some people with COPD also have asthma or environmental allergies. Common allergens, such as pollen and dust mites, might also make your COPD worse.

What’s the link between COPD, asthma, and allergens?

In asthma, your airways are chronically inflamed. During an acute asthma attack they swell even more and produce thick mucus. This can block your airways, making it difficult to breathe. Common asthma triggers include environmental allergens, such as dust mites and animal dander.

The symptoms of asthma and COPD are sometimes hard to tell apart. Both conditions cause chronic inflammation of your airways and interfere with your ability to breathe. Some people have asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS) — a term used to describe people who have traits of both diseases.

How many people with COPD have ACOS? Estimates range from about 12 to 55 percent, report researchers in Respiratory Medicine. According to scientists in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, you may be more likely to be hospitalized if you have ACOS rather than COPD alone. That isn’t surprising, when you consider the ways that both diseases affect your airways. Asthma attacks are particularly dangerous when your lungs are already compromised with COPD.

How can you avoid common indoor allergens?

If you have COPD, try to limit your exposure to indoor air pollution and irritants, including smoke and aerosol sprays. You may also need to avoid common airborne allergens, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, environmental allergies, or ACOS. It can be hard to avoid airborne allergens entirely, but you can take steps to reduce your exposure.

Pollen

If your breathing problems become worse during certain times of year, you might be reacting to pollen from seasonal plants. If you suspect pollen is triggering your symptoms, check your local weather network for pollen forecasts. When pollen counts are high:

  • limit your time outdoors
  • keep the windows closed in your car and home
  • use an air conditioner with a HEPA filter

Dust mites

Dust mites are another common allergy, asthma, and COPD trigger. To limit dust in your home:

  • replace carpets with tile or wood floors
  • regularly wash all your bedding and area rugs
  • vacuum your home on a regular basis using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
  • install HEPA filters in your heating and cooling systems and replace them regularly

Wear an N-95 particle mask while you’re vacuuming or dusting. Even better, leave those tasks to someone who doesn’t have allergies, asthma, or COPD.

Pet Dander

Microscopic bits of skin and hair make up animal dander, a common allergen. If you suspect your pet is contributing to your breathing problems, consider finding them another loving home. Otherwise, bathe them regularly, keep them away from your bedroom, and vacuum your home frequently.

Mold

Mold is another common cause of allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Even if you’re not allergic to it, inhaling mold can lead to a fungal infection in your lungs. The risk of infection is higher among people with COPD, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mold thrives in moist environments. Regularly examine your home for signs of mold, especially near faucets, showerheads, pipes, and roofs. Keep your indoor humidity levels at 40 to 60 percent using air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and fans. If you find mold, don’t clean it up yourself. Hire a professional or ask someone else to clean the affected area.

Chemical fumes

Many household cleaners produce potent fumes that can aggravate your airways. Bleach, bathroom cleaners, oven cleaners, and spray polish are common culprits. Avoid using products like these indoors in areas without proper ventilation. Even better, use vinegar, baking soda, and mild solutions of soap and water to meet your cleaning needs.

Chemical fumes from dry cleaning can also be irritating. Remove the plastic from dry-cleaned garments and air them out thoroughly before you store or wear them.

Scented hygiene products

Even mild fragrances can be bothersome for some people with allergies, asthma, or COPD, especially in closed environments. Avoid using scented soaps, shampoos, perfumes, and other hygiene products. Ditch scented candles and air fresheners too.

The takeaway

When you have COPD, avoiding your triggers is key to managing your symptoms, improving your quality of life, and lowering your risk of complications. Take steps to limit your exposure to pollutants, irritants, and allergens, such as:

  • smoke
  • pollen
  • dust mites
  • animal dander
  • chemical fumes
  • scented products

If your doctor suspects you have asthma or allergies in addition to COPD, they may order lung function tests, blood tests, skin prick tests, or other allergy testing. If you’re diagnosed with asthma or environmental allergies, take your medications as prescribed and follow your recommended management plan.

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