COPD Triggers to Avoid
When diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we are faced with many challenges. No matter what stage of COPD you’re at, it’s important to avoid triggers that may cause flare-ups in symptoms. However, before we can know how to avoid triggers, we have to know what our triggers are.
What Are Triggers?
Trigger is a term used to describe a condition that causes a worsening of your symptoms.
For example, COPD and barometric pressure don't mix. When we are exposed to this trigger we become breathless very quickly and struggle to get breathing under control. This can often lead to anxiety and panic attacks.
Many patients share the same triggers. Perfume, smoke, humidity, cleaning chemicals and cold weather were listed as the most common triggers by a large group of respiratory patients I recently surveyed.
What Triggers COPD Exacerbations?
Being an asthmatic since I was a child probably gave me a head start on identifying what made me breathless. Unfortunately, many of the triggers you will discover by accident, simply by doing normal day-to-day activities.
When first diagnosed with COPD, it’s important to take notice of what exacerbates your COPD symptoms so you can learn how to avoid these triggers in the future.
What Makes COPD Worse?
The list below is the results of the survey I talked about earlier, while some are common among patients there are others that are not common. The number indicates how many patients voted for this particular trigger.
- Perfume/scents - 59
- Humidity - 39
- Smoke from fires - 36
- Cleaning chemicals - 31
- Cold - 24
- Cigarette smoke - 23
- Stress - 22
- Diesel /exhaust fumes - 17
- Fast activity - 10
- Windy days - 10
- Paint - 9
- Being run down - 7
- Pollen - 7
- Eating - 6
- Frying food - 6
- Dust - 6
- Pollution - 5
- Mold - 4
- Spices - 3
- Vacuuming - 2
- Water on face in shower - 2
- Cats - 2
- Fresh road tar - 2
- New carpet - 1
If you’re newly diagnosed with COPD this list is a good place to start when looking for triggers to avoid as they are certainly common among patients.
How to Avoid COPD Triggers
Avoiding triggers may sound easy in theory, but in practice in can be a little challenging. Some examples of the difficulties we can come across have happened in recent times to me.
The last two years I have been invited to New Year’s Eve celebrations only to have my night cut short due to poorly placed smoking areas. Cigarette smoke is a major trigger for me so nowadays. Either my wife or I find out the positioning of smoking areas at venues before we accept invitations. If we can see there will be an issue, we don’t attend.
My wife and I have always liked to treat ourselves occasionally with a nice dinner out. However, I have to be careful when we eat out not to over-eat; eating three courses and having a bottle of wine is a quick way to breathlessness for me.
When I look at a menu I generally go for meals that are small in portion or limit myself to a main meal only.
Sometimes certain triggers are unavoidable. A good example of this was when I participated in the New York marathon race five years ago.
You wouldn’t think when you’re running a marathon cigarette smoke would be an issue, but sure enough one of the other runners near me lit up a cigarette five minutes before the start of the race — unbelievable! That day there also was plenty of cigarette smoke drifting across the course from spectators — nothing I could do about that.
Then there are the food triggers — they can vary from patient to patient. Recently I’ve found coriander makes me breathless almost instantly, but a friend of mine with COPD has no effect at all from coriander and loves it.
Some patients find dairy products can exacerbate symptoms. My own experience with dairy is not the same, however in recent times, I have eliminated dairy from what I eat due to my nutrition plan.
Why We Need to Avoid COPD Triggers
Apart from the fact that triggers make us breathless, we need to look more broadly at why we need to avoid them. Firstly, constantly becoming more breathless than normal leaves us feeling tired and run down from the extra workload placed on our lungs.
One aspect that’s important when thinking about how you manage your disease is the effort you place on your lungs. While exercise can improve your lungs efficiency, exposure to pollutants can be damaging.
Secondly, being rundown leaves our immune system exposed to infections and nasty exacerbations, which in turn can further damage our lungs. Maintaining what we have in terms of lung health is the most important thing we can do; our disease is progressive so we need to limit the amount of infections we contract.
Thirdly, constantly coming into contact with triggers and exacerbations of symptoms leads to a poor quality of life. You can live a better quality of life with COPD — it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Managing your disease through medication, nutrition, exercise and avoiding triggers is a path guaranteed to improve your situation.