Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season


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For many people, catching a cold means suffering through a week of sniffles and discomfort. But for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a viral infection like a cold or the flu can make it even more difficult to breathe, leading to potentially life-threatening complications.

What’s more, people with COPD are actually more likely to catch viral respiratory infections in the first place. “Their lung immune cells are a bit suppressed,” says Frank Sciurba, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. That means their lungs tend to be less effective at fighting off the germs they’re exposed to.

Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy during cold and flu season if you have COPD, along with what to do if you think you’re getting sick.

Why Colds and the Flu Are More Serious in People With COPD

The cold and flu viruses are much more serious for people with COPD because they can trigger COPD symptoms to get worse. In fact, most COPD flare-ups are triggered by upper respiratory infections like the common cold and the flu, according to the American Thoracic Society. Dr. Sciurba says that approximately a third of COPD exacerbations are related to viruses, a third are related to bacteria, and a third are related to irritants or allergies — but the balance tips toward viruses in winter.

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