Adults are likely to contract a cold or flu 2 to 4 times annually. Those affected may infect others up to one day before the symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick according to a report by the CDC.
Avoiding respiratory infections is critical for people with COPD. These infections can cause further lung damage and even progress to pneumonia which is life threatening. Infections through bacteria, viruses or other infectious organisms can make them susceptible to lung infections. This can in turn lead to a lot of difficulties causing wheezing, shortness of breath, or even trips to the hospital.
A pulmonologist and past chair of the COPD Alliance, Mr. Brian Carlin, reported that “Normal mucus production and normal ciliary function help to prevent bacteria and other organisms from adhering to the lining of the breathing tubes” he added that “In COPD, the normal lung defense mechanisms are impaired as a result of the exposure to cigarette smoke or other irritants and the bacteria or other organisms can adhere to the lining of the breathing.” He concluded that, for this reason, COPD makes you more susceptible to mucosal infections such as respiratory tract infections.
It is therefore important to watch out for signs of infections and follow these tips to help you prevent yourself from getting infected. You probably will not entirely avoid infections but these tips will help you try to do so as much as possible.
How to Prevent Infections
Wash your Hands
Hand washing is the simplest, yet one of the most effective ways to prevent illness. Wash frequently with soap and running water. Do this especially before taking your medication, preparing a meal, eating, after the bathroom, touching soiled clothes, or being close to someone that has contracted the flu. Also wash your hands thoroughly after you have been at a social gathering or around a lot of people, for example, in a school or hospital. Use hand sanitizer that you can carry with you when you don’t have access to clean running water to wash your hands.
Avoid Infected People
You should avoid having visitors over if they have cold or flu symptoms and try to avoid crowds in enclosed spaces during cold and flu season. The same applies to you. Call in sick or avoid contact with people if you're not feeling well. If someone in your household is sick sanitize hands and other surfaces.practice and minimize contact if possible.
Keep your Oxygen Equipment Clean
You should keep all your breathing equipment clean and ensure that they are well maintained. These include your humidifiers, oxygen cannula, oxygen masks, metered dose inhaler (MDI), MDI spacer, flutter valves, nebulizer tubing and mouthpiece. Change tubing and cannulas frequently, even if you're not feeling sick. Also, do not share your equipment with anyone else.
Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids is part of good bronchiole hygiene. Bronchioles are tiny airways inside the lungs. Staying well hydrated flushes bacteria from the body and keeps lung tissue working at optimal levels. Try to drink 6-8 glasses unless advised by your doctor otherwise. Water and juices are the best type of drinks to keep you hydrated.
Maintain a Clean Environment
Dust, mold and mildew are all detrimental to your respiratory health. Clean exposed surfaces and keep sinks, toilets, and tubs scrubbed. Make sure your cooking vent is working properly so that it removes cooking fumes from your kitchen as it should to keep your lungs from inhaling smoke while cooking.
Avoid air pollution like industrial smoke, cigarette smoke, wood and oil smoke, and car exhaust fumes which cause inhaled irritants to enter your lungs and can get you infected. You should also avoid contact with pollen. Time errands in the early morning when pollen counts are lower during allergy season.
Avoid high construction areas and if there is a lot of construction near your house, wear a mask or face covering when outside.
Practice Mucus Clearing Techniques
COPD patients should try to keep their airways open and clear of mucus. There are several mucus clearing techniques that you can practice at home. You can also ask your respiratory therapist how to make your coughing more productive.
Try to eat a well-balanced diet. Taking in the right nutrients can help the body fight and resist infections. You should try to eat foods from all the food groups to maintain a good diet and avoid having a deficiency of any sort. Vitamin C is the ultimate cold buster and also try to pack your diet with antioxidants. Antioxidants fight infections and are great for your heart and lungs as well!
- Dark Chocolate
- Russet Potatoes
Getting vaccinated will reduce the risk of getting infected. Your doctor or respiratory therapist has probably already suggested annual flu shots. People with COPD may also take the pneumococcal vaccine once. The revaccination of the pneumococcal vaccine is a bit controversial. Your doctor should advise you better on whether you should be revaccinated or not.
Get Plenty of Rest
When you are sleeping it is your body's time to rest and renew. Getting enough sleep makes all your body's systems run better, including your immune system.
Should you contract an infection, contact your doctor and have it treated at the first sign. This will ensure it is treated before it progresses into a serious lung infection. Signs you might be infected include noticing that your sputum has changes color from white or clear to orange or dark. This does not imply that you have to shut yourself out from the world when you have COPD. It just means that you need to be a bit more careful and take precautions to avoid getting sick.