No matter the severity or stage of your COPD, preventing flare-ups is crucial to feeling your best. That means eliminating exposure to things that may trigger flare-ups, such as cigarette smoke, smoke from cooking fires, dust, chemicals from household cleaners, and indoor and outdoor air pollution. Breathing may be difficult if the temperatures are freezing or below freezing, above 90 degrees F, or on days with high humidity, ozone levels, and/or pollen counts. Excessive wind can also make breathing seem more difficult.
Take steps to protect yourself by staying inside on extreme weather days. If you must venture outside, plan your activities during the mildest part of the day. If the temperatures are cold, cover your mouth with a scarf. During the summer months, COPD patients should also concern themselves with avoiding the outdoors on days when the humidity and ozone levels are highest, indicators that pollution levels are at their worst.
According to Dr. Phillip Factor, Chief of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, sensitivity to humidity levels is something different for each COPD patient.
“Many patients with COPD have a component of asthma and some of those patients prefer warm, dry climates while others prefer more humid environments,” he says.
In general, minimal humidity levels are best for COPD patients—about 40 percent humidity is ideal. This is also true of indoor humidity levels, which can be difficult to maintain during the winter months, especially in colder climates where heating systems are running constantly. To achieve an optimal indoor humidity level, you can purchase a humidifier that works with your central heating unit or an independent unit suitable for one or two rooms. Whichever you choose, be sure to clean and maintain it regularly, follow the manufacturer’s directions as many have air filters that must be routinely washed or replaced. The National Institute of Health recommends changing home air filters in air conditioner and heating units every three months.
The Dangers of High Indoor Humidity
High levels of high indoor humidity are often the source of mold growth inside the home, yet another potential trigger for both asthma and COPD patients.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with COPD may be more sensitive to mold exposure, especially in people with a compromised immune system. Too much indoor humidity can also lead to an increase in common indoor air pollutants, such as dust mites, cockroaches, bacteria, and viruses. Exposure to mold may also cause irritation of the throat and lungs and has been linked to worsening asthma symptoms, increased coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, sneezing, and rhinitis (irritation of the mucus membrane inside the nose).
To be certain that your home is not harboring a mold problem, be wary of any place in the house where moisture can build up. Use the following checklist to note common areas where mold is often problematic and then take immediate steps to remove and clean hard surfaces, first covering your nose and mouth with an N-95 particle mask and your hands with disposable gloves.
- flooding or rainwater leaks from the roof or basement/crawl space
- poorly connected pipes or leaky pipes under sinks or in showers
- carpet that remains damp
- poorly ventilated bathrooms and kitchens
- condensation build-up from humidifiers and dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and drip pans under refrigerators/freezers
Finally, if you’ve been diagnosed with COPD and you live in a region of the country with high humidity levels, consider moving to a dryer environment. While doing so may not fully abate your COPD symptoms, it could help you avoid flare-ups. Be sure to always visit a new location before relocating, however, to see in person how the changes may affect your overall health.