May 8, 2017

Preventing exacerbations and keeping yourself safe this winter

As you may be aware, an exacerbation or flare up of your Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is as detrimental to the lungs as a coronary is for the heart. Each time a patient with COPD has a chest infection or an exacerbation, their lungs are robbed of vital reserve. Too many exacerbations means the lungs stop working as effectively. Avoiding exacerbations is therefore critically important  to maintaining lung health and allowing the lungs and cardiac system a chance to recover.

Typically, an exacerbation is triggered by an infection such as a virus or bacteria. However, if there is an allergic component to your lung problems then it is quite possible that allergy, as was seen in the recent Melbourne asthma thunderstorms, could also be a trigger.
The first rule to avoiding an exacerbation is to keep healthy. This might seem astoundingly obvious, but with all the sophisticated treatments now available it is easy to forget that preventing yourself from becoming run down and exhausted is essential to maintaining your immune system and preventing passing germs or “bugs” taking hold. Bugs are a part of our everyday existence and it is not necessarily that we are unlucky to catch them but more often that our immune system is depleted and the bugs see an opportunity to jump in, take hold and then cause problems. Avoiding exhaustion, irregular sleep and erratic diets are all important elements to keeping your immune system in shape.

The second rule is to have a plan. Ideally this should be a written action plan worked out with your doctor or respiratory nurse telling you what to do and when (including emergency phone numbers). It is important to ‘nip exacerbations in the bud’. Delay in treatment often prolongs the attack as well as dramatically increases the amount of medication required. For example, an attack starts on Wednesday and by Friday evening the patient realises they have a problem but there are no doctors around. They leave it over the weekend, hoping it will get better and then have to go to the hospital on Monday. It is much better to start additional treatment on Wednesday, be improving by Friday and off to golf or work by Monday. To achieve this,  it is essential to have the appropriate medications on hand, know how to use them correctly and to have a supply of emergency treatments.

The third rule is to be up-to-date with your flu and pneumonia vaccinations. With these tips and tricks, it’s easy to see what gives the best ‘bang for the buck’ as regards looking after yourself this winter.

Fill out our COPD Action Plan with your doctor or nurse. Visit http://lungfoundation.com.au/copd-action-plan/ to download your copy.