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COPD: Avoiding Your Triggers

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You can do things at home to manage COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). By learning the triggers for COPD and avoiding them, you can help reduce flare-ups. While some triggers may be out of your control, there are others you can easily avoid.

  • Learn and avoid the common triggers for COPD.
  • By avoiding flare-ups, you may feel better, be more active, and reduce the impact of COPD on your life.
  • Pay attention to symptoms that may warn you of a flare-up. You may need to see your doctor or go to the hospital if your symptoms are severe.

A trigger is anything that causes your COPD symptoms to flare up or get worse. Triggers include:

  • Illnesses like colds, the flu, acute bronchitis, or pneumonia.
  • Poor air quality, such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, smoke, or smog.
  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Cleaning supplies or other chemicals.
  • Gases, particles, or fumes from wood or kerosene home heaters.
  • Not taking or running out of your medicines.
  • Things you are allergic to, such as:
    • Pollen, mold, or dust mites.
    • Pet hair, skin, or saliva.

Not all people have the same triggers. What may cause a flare-up in one person may not be a problem for another person.

Test Your Knowledge

Getting sick with the flu can trigger a flare-up of COPD symptoms.


Flare-ups of COPD symptoms are caused by the same things for everyone.


Flare-ups of COPD can greatly limit your activities. You may even need to stay in the hospital. By avoiding flare-ups, you may feel better, be more active, and reduce the impact of COPD on your life.

So it is important to pay attention to your symptoms. You can tell you're having a flare-up when your usual symptoms suddenly get worse. For example:

  • You may wheeze or be more short of breath than usual.
  • You may cough more than usual. Your cough may or may not bring up mucus. Or you may notice a change in the color or amount of mucus you cough up.
  • You may have a fever, have trouble sleeping, or feel very tired. Or you may feel depressed or confused.

With treatment, many people are able to breathe as well as they did before a flare-up.

Test Your Knowledge

Avoiding triggers of a flare-up can help you stay out of the hospital.


A fever may be a sign of a COPD flare-up.


There are many things you can do to avoid triggers and stay as healthy as you can.

Avoid triggers in the air

  • Quit smoking. This is the most important thing you can do. Also stay away from other people who are smoking.
  • Use an air conditioner or air filter in your home.
  • Cook near an open door or window, or turn on your kitchen fan.
  • If there is a lot of pollution or dust outside, stay at home and keep your windows closed.

Protect your health

  • Get a flu vaccine every year.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumococcal shot.
  • Wash your hands to avoid infections.
  • Eat healthy foods, exercise, and get enough rest.
  • Refill your medicines before you run out.
  • Take extra medicines with you when you travel.

Test Your Knowledge

It is okay for me to be around other people who smoke, as long as I don't smoke.


Getting a flu vaccine can help me avoid one of the triggers of COPD.


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start identifying and avoiding triggers for COPD.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to use a highlighter to mark areas or make notes in the margins of pages where you have questions.

Be sure to let your doctor know if you notice changes in your symptoms. Talk with your doctor about what might be triggers for you. Ask about ways you can avoid those triggers.

If you would like more information on COPD, the following resources are available:

Online Resource
Web Address:

This Web site was created by the Tobacco Control Research Branch of the National Cancer Institute with important contributions from other national agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society. It offers an online guide to quitting smoking, including online messaging and telephone support from the National Cancer Institute.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKen Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last RevisedFebruary 19, 2013

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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