9 Common COPD Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Do you know about the many lung irritants that can set offsymptoms? Learn which culprits to avoid with this primer.

By Elizabeth Shimer BowersMedically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MDReviewed: Medically Reviewed

When you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (), exposure to certain lung irritants can mean the difference between huffing and puffing and easier breathing. The biggesttrigger by far — both in terms of the onset of the condition and managing it down the road — is smoking. But beyond this obvious culprit, there are a number of other lung irritants that can trigger or worsen yoursymptoms. Make avoiding them a top priority in your efforts to stay healthy with .

Stay Away From Tobacco Smoke

As many as 90 percent ofcases are tied to smoking. So one of the best ways to prevent , as well as keep it from getting worse, is to steer clear of cigarettes. “Smoking causes oxidative stress, which stimulates inflammation in the airways,” says Michael W. Sims, MD, an assistant professor and director of clinical research for the Penn Medicine Airways Biology Initiative in Philadelphia. These damaging effects cause , and they also cause the condition to decline faster by increasing the risk for acute symptoms. Avoiding secondhand smoke is just as important as quitting smoking.

9 Common COPD Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Beware of Indoor Air Pollution

The second most predominant trigger ofsymptoms is combustible smoke, "such as breathing in smoke while cooking over an open wood fire, or heating your home with a kerosene heater that is poorly ventilated,” Dr. Sims says. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 million people each year die fromthat develops as a result of indoor air pollution. These lung irritants are primarily an issue for people in developing countries, but they should be avoided in general to help prevent . To minimize indoor air pollution, avoid using a fireplace or wood-burning stove, and keep your air filters clean.

Take Steps to Avoid Bacterial and Viral Respiratory Infections

"Respiratory viruses, including influenza and pneumonia, are among the most concerning triggers ofsymptoms," says Heath Latham, MD, assistant professor in the department of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. "These viruses cause a breakdown in the lining of the airways, creating inflammation and increasing the risk of secondary bacterial infections."

To manage , annual flu and pneumonia vaccines are essential. These vaccinations protect against the viruses that can worsenand develop into a fatal infection. In addition to a yearly flu shot, you can avoid viruses and bacterial infections by following good hand-washing hygiene and steering clear of situations where you're more likely to be exposed to illnesses.

Consider Outdoor Air Pollution

Although it’s important to stay as active as you can with , you do need to be aware of what’s going on outdoors: Traditional city air pollution can triggersymptoms. Of particular concern are the solid chunks of pollution that come from products of combustion, such as car and truck exhaust. “Some of the particles in city air pollution are so small that they can’t be seen with the eye, but can be breathed deep into the small airways, where they deposit and cause inflammation,” Sims says. Translation for dailymanagement: Stay inside on days when ozone exposure is high. Check your local paper for daily air quality reports, or download the Everyday HealthTracker for weather information plus treatment and condition tips.

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