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Copd: Prevent Exacerbations


An exacerbation of COPD

means your symptoms get much worse very quickly. Exacerbations can be triggered by infections such as a cold or the flu. Lung irritants such as air pollution, dust, fumes, or smoke can also trigger an exacerbation. Exacerbations of COPD can be life-threatening.

Protect yourself from germs:

Germs can get into your lungs and cause an infection. An infection in your lungs can create more mucus and make it harder to breathe. An infection can also create swelling in your airways and prevent air from getting in. You can decrease your risk for infection by doing the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when soap and water are not available.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.
  • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.

Do not smoke, and avoid others who smoke:

Nicotine and other substances can cause lung irritation or damage and make it harder for you to breathe. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. For support and more information:

    Phone: 1- 800 - 784-8669
    Web Address:

Use pursed-lip breathing any time you feel short of breath:

Take a deep breath in through your nose. Slowly breathe out through your mouth with your lips pursed for twice as long as you inhaled. You can also practice this breathing pattern while you bend, lift, climb stairs, or exercise. It slows down your breathing and helps move more air in and out of your lungs.

Breathe in Breathe out

Take your medicines as directed:

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to treat an infection or help you breathe easier. It is important that you take your medicines as directed to prevent an exacerbation. Refill your medicines before you are out so that you do not miss a dose. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions on how to take your medicines.

Avoid lung irritants:

Stay out of high altitudes and places with high humidity. Stay inside, or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when you are outside during cold weather. Stay inside on days when air pollution or pollen counts are high. Do not use aerosol sprays such as deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.

Drink more liquids:

This will help to keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

Ask about vaccines:

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you get regular flu and pneumonia vaccines. Pneumonia can become life-threatening for a person who has COPD. Ask about other vaccines you may need.

Ask your healthcare provider about the flu and pneumonia vaccines.

All adults should get the flu (influenza) vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. The pneumonia vaccine is given to adults aged 65 or older to prevent pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia. Adults aged 19 to 64 years who are at high risk for pneumococcal disease also should get the pneumococcal vaccine. It may need to be repeated 1 or 5 years later.

Pulmonary rehabilitation:

Your healthcare provider may recommend a program to help prevent an exacerbation of COPD. Pulmonary rehabilitation may include nutritional counseling and exercise to strengthen your lungs.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.