"COPD stands for two processes that almost always occur together: chronic bronchitis, which is inflammation of the airways, and emphysema, which is destruction of the fine substance of the lung," says Norman Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.
But the air inside your home matters too. Take these simple steps to keep irritants out of your airways, which can help stop trouble before it gets started.
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Avoid wood-burning fireplaces
Wood-burning fireplacescharming and romantic as they may beproduce particulate matter that can get into your lungs and make it harder to breathe.
“Wood-burning fireplaces put out soot and carbon,” says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“There’s nothing in there that’s a good thing for a patient. There’s no inhalant that’s worse than smoke.”
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Steer clear of smokers
Smoking causes about 85% of COPD cases in the United States, says Dr. Edelman. But whether or not you smoked before you were diagnosed, you’ll need to stay away from secondhand (or firsthand) smoke.
“Smoking and secondhand smoke are absolutely to be avoided,” Dr. Horovitz says.
It’s no secret that kicking the habit is really, really hard. But if you have COPD and smoke, the stakes are higher than ever before. Quit and you’ll prevent further damage; don’t and the disease will progress faster.
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Keep the dust mites away
Like humans, dust mites like to burrow into mattresses and bedding. “Dust mites are a trigger for asthmatics and people with COPD and should be kept to a minimum,” Dr. Horovitz says.
He recommends using mattress covers and pillowcases that are bed-bug proof, which usually means they’re mite-proof as well. And pick pillows that are made of foam rubber, not goose-down or feathers.
Washing your linens in hot water (above 130°F) at least once a week will also keep the dust mites at bay, Dr. Edelman says.
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Cut the chemicals
It’s a bit of a conundrum. You need to clean up dust and pet dander, but strong-smelling cleaning products can be lung irritants.
Even walking into a recently cleaned house can be a problem and wearing a mask won’t necessarily help. That means using vinegar or regular old soap and water, basically “things that don’t have a fragrance,” says Dr. Horovitz.
You should avoid hair spray, perfumes, glues, paints, and air fresheners too. “If you want to freshen your air, clean and don’t mask over another odor,” he says.
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Control pet dander
Pet dander is less of a problem for COPD than for asthma, because dander particles are usually too big to penetrate deep into the airways, says Dr. Edelman.
Still, many people with COPD also have allergies, which can exacerbate breathing problems. Dogs, cats, and even birds can be a problem (fish aren’t).
If you already have a pet, or you find an animal is necessary for your mental health, make sure you wash your hands after petting, and keep your pet out of the bedroom.
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Filter your air
Air filters can cut down dramatically on the fine particles that irritate the lungs. “It’s always better to ventilate through a system that has a filter,” Dr. Edelman says. “You want to filter as many particles as you can.”
Changing filters often will also help keep the air clean.
For the dog days of summer, central air-conditioning is best, but even then, filters make it better, Dr. Horovitz says.
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Close your window
Ozone and other forms of air pollution, as well as outdoor allergens and dust, can affect your lungs. This can be especially troublesome if it’s allergy season, if the winds are howling, or if you live in a place (like New York City or New Mexico) prone to dust accumulation.
On high air-pollution days keep the windows closed. You can check air quality throughout the U.S. at AirNow.
If you’re cleaning, though, you may want to open a window to clear the air of cleaning chemicals, according to the American Lung Association.
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Fight mold and mildew
Good ventilation systems in both the bedroom and bathroom can cut down on molds, another potential trigger of lung trouble.
And because dust mites like humidity too, you should keep the moisture levels in your home unattractively low, at around 40%, Dr. Edelman says.
To do so, consider using a dehumidifier and don’t run a humidifier or vaporizer.
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Check your stove
Like fireplaces, wood-burning stoves can pose problems unless they are completely enclosed and come with a good ventilation system, Dr. Edelman adds.
You can still stay warm and cozy all winter, just do it with old-fashioned radiators or central heating.
Even gas stoves can be a problem for those with lung trouble. However, if you have an automatic igniter, it cuts down on the amount of gas that can escape, he says.
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Exercise but don’t overexert
Exercise is a good thing if you have COPD. However, if your condition is severe, too much exertion can trigger breathing difficulties.
“You do want to exercise but you don’t want to subject yourself to carrying a heavy laundry basket up several flights of stairs, Dr. Horovitz says. “That’s going to be a problem.”
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