A white air freshener sitting on a dark brown table.
The fumes from air fresheners and candles can cause a COPD flare-up.

What Are Common Irritants for COPD?

Currently, there is no cure for COPD. But there are many ways to decrease the severity and frequency of symptoms. One of the most important ways is to determine and avoid irritants for COPD.

A flare-up of COPD involves an increase in symptoms. Someone with COPD may, at their baseline, always have a cough or shortness of breath. But an exacerbation of symptoms causes more severe symptoms. A flare-up may also involve new symptoms that a person did not have in the past.

Several factors may play a role in COPD flare-ups. For example, in some cases, a respiratory infection, such as the flu or a cold, can cause an increase in symptoms. But in other cases, something may irritate the airways.

Main Irritants for COPD

The airways of people with COPD are sensitive to various types of irritants. When someone with COPD is exposed to an irritant, it may lead to increased inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Excess mucus production may also develop.

Everyone with COPD is different. Not all people have the same triggers. It is essential to determine what causes an increase in COPD symptoms, so you can find ways to avoid irritants as much as possible. Below are some of the most common irritants for COPD.

1. Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke is a typical cause of COPD. Over time, the chemicals in cigarettes damage the lungs and causes lasting changes. When someone with COPD smokes or is exposed to cigarette smoke, it may contribute to an increase in airway inflammation, which leads to a flare-up of symptoms.

2. Air Pollution

Air pollution is also another common irritant for people with COPD. The chemicals in air pollution may lead to irritation and a sudden increase in symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing. Common pollutants that may bother people with COPD include:

  • Wildfire smoke
  • Pollen
  • Car exhaust
  • Chimney smoke

3. Dust

Dust is often hard to avoid. It can be found both inside and outside. The dust particles are small enough that they may be inhaled into the airways, causing irritation. Vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting can lead to a flare-up in COPD symptoms.

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4. Cold or Hot Weather

Weather changes can make COPD symptoms worse. Some people do better in cold weather and some in hot weather. But for many, temperature extremes involving hot or cold weather make COPD symptoms worse.

Cold air is also often dry. The combination can irritate sensitive airways. But hot weather, especially if it is also humid, can make it more challenging to breathe. The air may feel thick, and increased water vapor in the air can contribute to more COPD symptoms.

5. Fumes

There are many types of fumes all around you every day. Common types of fumes may include chemicals in paint or cleaning products. But there are also fumes in scented candles, perfumes, and air fresheners. Inhaling these fumes may worsen symptoms.

Avoiding COPD triggers

A COPD flare-up may cause lasting changes. It may cause a faster progression of COPD and a decreased quality of life. Avoiding COPD triggers and irritants is one way to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Since everyone may have different irritants, individual COPD strategies to reduce exposure will vary. Many people with COPD also have more than one thing that leads to irritation. If you have COPD, you may have several irritants.

Developing a plan to help you avoid and limit irritants in COPD is a great way to take charge of your health. Consider the following tips:

  • Identify the problem. The first step is to keep a symptom log and determine what may be causing a worsening of symptoms. Once you identify the irritants, you can find ways to decrease exposure.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke. If you have COPD, it is vital to quit smoking. But you should also avoid being around secondhand smoke. Consider making it a no-smoking zone in your home.
  • Check air quality. The air pollution outside may vary daily. The wind, temperature and season can all affect the level of pollution in the air. Check air quality daily through your local weather app to determine if you should stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Wear a mask. Wearing a mask over your mouth and nose when you go out may block pollution and other lung irritants. Just be sure it is not too restrictive, and you can still breathe well in it. If you are unsure about which type of mask to wear, talk with your doctor.
  • Avoid inhaling products. It can be difficult to avoid all types of fumes. But consider using products without fragrances. If you are cleaning, make sure to keep the area well ventilated. Also, take frequent breaks away from chemicals.
  • Do errands in the morning. If you have outdoor activities planned, or have errands to run, consider doing them in the morning. In the summer, if hot temperatures bother you, mornings are cooler. In addition, ozone levels may also be lower in the morning.
  • Follow your COPD treatment plan. Take your medications as directed by your doctor and follow your treatment plan. Following your COPD treatment plan may help decrease inflammation and keep COPD symptoms at bay.