Some actions or substances can cause COPD symptoms to worsen or flare up. To manage COPD, it’s essential to avoid or limit exposure to known triggers.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) limits airflow in and out of the lungs. Symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • fatigue

Temperature and weather can cause COPD symptoms to worsen. Cold, dry air or hot air can trigger a flare-up.

According to a study, temperature extremes, below freezing and above 90°F (32°C), are particularly dangerous.

Factors such as wind and humidity can increase the risk of a COPD flare-up.

Managing cold weather

You should cover your nose and mouth outdoors in cold, windy weather. A painter’s mask or scarf works well, or you can cup both hands together and hold them over your nose and mouth.

Indoors, air humidity ideally should be at 40%. You can maintain this percentage with a humidifier.

Managing hot weather

On extremely hot and humid days, stay indoors with the air conditioner on to avoid COPD flare-ups, according to the National Emphysema Foundation.

In fact, it’s the only way to reduce the risk. Many people with mid- to late-stage COPD will even move to a part of the country where weather temperatures are more moderate.

Whether outdoors or indoors, air pollution can cause COPD symptoms to flare up.

Outdoors, the following allergens can trigger a flare-up:

  • dust
  • pollen
  • smog

Other common outdoor allergens include:

  • odors from industrial plants or road construction
  • smoke from outdoor fires

Indoor allergens include:

  • dust
  • pollen
  • pet dander
  • chemicals from cleaning products, paint, or textiles
  • smoke from fireplaces or cooking
  • mold
  • perfumes

Managing outdoor air pollution

People with COPD can protect themselves from outdoor pollutants like cold air. A painter’s mask is recommended if you have to be outside.

If you have to be outside, limit your exercise or physical activity. The best way to reduce the risk of a flare-up is to remain indoors, especially when smog levels are exceptionally high.

Some limited data suggests that high ozone levels may lead to COPD flare-ups.

Generally, ozone levels are highest between May and September and tend to be higher in the afternoon than in the morning.

Managing indoor air pollution

An air purifier can help filter many irritants. For a more natural option, several plants can help clean the air. Regular and thorough cleaning of your house, especially dusting and vacuuming, also can help reduce the risk of a COPD flare-up.

However, it’s best if someone other than the person with COPD does the cleaning. Chemicals in cleaning products can trigger symptoms, and so can dust that gets kicked up in the cleaning process.

You may want to use natural cleaning products that don’t have as many harmful irritants. Also, exertion may cause a flare-up.

Infections that affect the lungs and airways are dangerous for a person with COPD. Common bugs that cause colds and the flu can worsen COPD symptoms, such as:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue

If not treated properly, symptoms can also lead to pneumonia, which can be life threatening.

Avoiding infections

The easiest way to reduce your risk of infection is to wash your hands often and thoroughly. Also, stay up-to-date on recommended vaccinations, especially for the flu and pneumonia.

It’s also essential to:

  • stay hydrated
  • practice good hygiene
  • keep your home sanitized
  • avoid crowded places and people who are sick to reduce your risk of getting an infection

If you get a cold or the flu, it’s vital to treat it as soon as possible.

The dangers of smoking have been vastly researched and documented. The risks to a person with COPD are numerous.

Cigarette smoke contains tar and many toxic chemicals that irritate the lungs. Smoking also damages the cilia, the tiny hairs responsible for cleaning the airways.

These factors can increase the risk of infection and a flare-up of symptoms.

Avoiding cigarette smoke

People with COPD should avoid smoking. If you have quit, it’s beneficial to stay smoke-free and avoid secondhand smoke.

There are many smoking cessation options available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a hotline to quit smoking at the number 1-800-QUIT-NOW. You can also talk with a doctor about other options.

Managing or avoiding your triggers is the best first step to easing COPD symptoms. But sometimes that isn’t enough.

Here are some resources to help manage COPD: