Managing COPD With the Flu

Medically reviewed by Dr. Kenneth Knowles, MD on January 2nd, 2020

couple sick with the flu

What would you do if you couldn’t catch your breath? It’s unnerving, the gasping. Now, try living with a progressive disease that constantly threatens to take your breath away. For those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this is routine. The relationship you have with your comorbidity is a toxic one, making it difficult to manage even on the better days. So, what happens when you throw a severe ailment, like influenza (the flu), into the mix? For the 62 million individuals in the world who are currently suffering from COPD, when flu season strikes, it hits hard. If you have COPD, you need to take extra care with flu preventives in order to avoid both worsening the symptoms of the flu itself and triggering a COPD exacerbation—a severe condition that rapidly increases shortness of breath. If you are more susceptible to the flu due to COPD, stay tuned as we lay out some of the best ways you can manage your disease while battling the flu.

The Toxic Relationship

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s cover some basics: How does COPD progress? The short answer is slowly. As a progressive disease that weakens the lungs, mild symptoms will worsen, and flare-ups will increase in severity over time. All in all, it’s a condition that can and will significantly impact the simplest of routines. More than half of COPD exacerbations, however, are caused by viral and bacterial infections in the lungs—the flu being among the biggest aggressors. Since COPD sufferers already have compromised lung function, these exacerbations can become fatal if left untreated. 

As with any toxic relationship, COPD and the flu will leave you feeling drained both physically and emotionally. But, there’s still hope left! While you should never wait to seek medical attention when a COPD exacerbation arises, on better days, there are some ways you can manage your comorbidity and hopefully lower the risk of a flare-up. One of the best preventatives is to avoid triggers.

Avoiding Triggers

As COPD advances, exacerbations will likely increase in frequency. This is especially true when dealing with an additional ailment that affects the upper respiratory system. To help your recovery and manage your COPD flare-ups while dealing with the flu, avoiding triggers is critical. Not all COPD sufferers have the same sensitivities, but there are a few common triggers that can worsen your condition. It’s best to avoid these, even more so, when you’re sick:

  • Smog
  • Vehicle exhaust
  • Fire/wood-burning smoke
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Dust
  • Chemical fumes from paint, varnish, household cleaning products, perfume

In short, it’s best to avoid air pollutants and allergens that can worsen your already infected respiratory system. This will help you manage your symptoms without outside interference.

Screening, Treatment & Prevention

During flu season, contagious germs seemingly cover every public surface. While following good hygiene practices can help lessen the possibility of contraction, the risk is still out there. The best way for those with COPD to manage their disease during this season of sickos is to take steps to prevent catching the flu in the first place. In addition to getting the annual flu vaccination as soon as possible, stay away from large crowds. But most importantly, take the time to truly understand the severity of your condition, recognize the warning signs of a flare-up, and check in with your doctor at the first sign of a problem.

Tips for Managing Both Conditions

Once the flu strikes, it quickly becomes a vicious cycle for patients suffering from COPD. The infection exacerbates the comorbidity, treatment begins, and the goal of recovery becomes a battle of breaths. To reduce your odds of worsening your COPD, follow these management techniques during flu season:

  • Take precautions in public. Germs stick to everything, spreading and attacking even the most pristine immune systems. To ward off these evildoers, take extra precaution in public places—like the supermarket—by wiping down surfaces with antibacterial wipes and washing your hands. Wearing masks in public can also help lessen respiratory triggers. 
  • Recognize the warning signs of a flare-up. Being able to recognize signs of a COPD exacerbation is another lifesaving management technique when compromised with the flu. You can often tell when a flare-up is about to begin, so pay attention to the signs. This can ease treatment and potentially help you avoid hospitalization. 
  • Start antiviral therapy as soon as possible. When diagnosed with the flu, make sure you start antiviral medications as soon as possible. This can help manage flare-ups caused by the infection and get you on the road to recovery sooner. 
  • Create a safe environment. Make sure that your home is clean and filled with fresh, filtered air. This can help regulate triggers carried in the air and keep you and your lungs stable as you manage your illness. 

The Importance of Receiving Medical Care

Unfortunately, COPD exacerbations are a part of the progressive nature of the disease. If you find yourself in a situation where a flare-up is about to come on or has already taken hold, the last thing you want to do is get behind the wheel of a car to seek medical treatment. Instead, turn to the on-demand medical team at DispatchHealth. Our qualified medical teams will arrive at your door with nearly all of the tools and technologies found in an emergency room, allowing providers to carry out a variety of advanced tests and treatments. This includes patients suffering from the flu and complex conditions like COPD. What’s more, we accept most forms of major insurance—helping you get the high-level of care that you need at an affordable price. 

Requesting our service is easy; simply contact us via phone, mobile app, or website and we’ll be there to help with a few hours. 

Sources

DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies. 

Sources referenced in this article: 

  1. https://www.usa.philips.com/c-e/hs/better-sleep-breathing-blog/better-breathing/coping-with-copd-and-the-flu.html
  2. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/copd
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcopd%2Findex.htm
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2692119/ 
  6. https://www.lung.ca/lung-health/lung-disease/copd/flare-ups
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