Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is exactly what the name suggests: a chronic, persistent disease. Even so, those with COPD have good days and bad days. Many factors, including lifestyle choices and environmental influences, can trigger flare-ups of COPD. Learning to identify and avoid these triggers can help COPD sufferers live a healthier life.

What Are Triggers?

A trigger is anything that can cause a flare-up of COPD symptoms. Triggers can be irritants in the home or in the environment, activities you enjoy, or even the weather itself.

Possible triggers for COPD flare-ups include the following:

  • air pollution
  • germs
  • cigarette smoke
  • weather
  • strong scents, perfumes
  • exercise
  • stress

How Can You Avoid These Triggers?

With so many potential triggers out there, avoiding all of them can seem like a daunting task. Below are some practical tips for keeping common triggers at bay.

Air Pollution

Obviously you need to breathe. You can, however, reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants in the air by steering clear of industrial areas and busy roads with heavy traffic volume, particularly those frequented by diesel trucks. If you live in a large, smog-filled city, try to use the morning for outdoor activities. That’s when smog levels are generally lower. You may also wish to wear a mask over your nose and mouth to help filter out irritants.


Getting sick is never fun, but it can be especially worrisome when you have COPD. To limit your contact with germs, wash your hands often, and try to avoid touching your eyes and mouth. Explain to friends and family members that their visits are welcome, but only when they are feeling their best.

Secondhand Smoke

Cigarette smoke is harmful, even if you don’t smoke yourself. The harmful substances it contains, including tar and carbon monoxide, can worsen your COPD symptoms and reduce lung function. Stay away from people who smoke, and from areas where people smoke. Even if no one is smoking at the time, smoke becomes trapped in upholstery, carpets, and curtains (this is called “thirdhand smoke”) and can still trigger COPD flare-ups.


Sometimes it seems like weather is always a trigger, whether it’s hot, cold, dry, or humid. If the cold air bothers you, try wearing a ski mask. Alternately, you can wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth, and breathe through your nose. This will warm the air as you inhale, lessening the negative effects. Once you go inside, dry indoor air may cause problems. Use a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air. In the summer, heat and humidity can make breathing more difficult. Try to stay indoors when possible, with the air conditioner running.

Strong Scents

Any type of scent or fume can be irritating to the lungs. Make sure your oven vent is properly maintained, so that it vents cooking fumes outside. Avoid harsh household cleaners and chemicals, and turn on exhaust fans when needed. Ask companions to lay off perfumes and colognes.


It’s true that exercise is good for you, but strenuous exercise can make it harder to breathe. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any exercise regimen you’re thinking about trying. Start slowly, and gradually work up to your desired pace.


Stress, anxiety, and other strong emotions that increase your breathing rate can make your COPD symptoms worse. Try to take time out of each day for yourself. This is a good time to do whatever it is that makes you feel relaxed. A warm bath, meditation, and yoga are good ways to beat stress. When you feel anxiety coming on, take a few minutes to calm down and control your breathing.

Not all flare-ups can be avoided, and COPD symptoms are always around. Try these tips and you may find yourself better prepared to face your triggers, and have a few more of those good days.