COPD Triggers

What can cause my breathing and COPD to flare up?

Many factors can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to flare up. It’s important to understand the triggers so can avoid them.


Quitting smoking is the most important change you can make to help yourself. It’s never too late to quit! By stopping smoking, you can help slow down the progress of lung damage. If you’re still smoking, ask your doctor to help you quit. Ask family members to smoke outside the house. You can also get help by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-748-8669).

doctor reviewing x-ray of patients lungIndoor and outdoor pollution

Don’t be around smoke, aerosol sprays, strong chemicals or other irritants or allergens. Listen to the television and radio for warnings about poor air quality or ozone alerts. Try to stay indoors when the pollution levels are high. If you don’t have air conditioning, try to escape the heat by going to someplace cool such as a recreation center, library, senior center or the mall.

Lung infections

Infections can cause you to have a flare up of your COPD. Get a yearly flu shot. To make getting care easier, get your flu shot at your doctor’s office or at many large pharmacies. Also, ask your doctor about a pneumonia vaccine. Wash your hands often, and do not touch your face, especially your eyes. Avoid going to crowded places in the winter so that you don’t expose yourself to other people’s germs.


Cold air can dry your airways and irritate your lungs. Cover your mouth with a scarf to help warm the air so that you can breathe easier. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth when you’re in the cold weather. In the summer, the heat and humidity can make it hard to breathe. When it’s very hot and humid, stay indoors and use an air conditioner if possible.

Stress and anxiety

Having trouble breathing can make you feel stressed, and you may panic, making your breathing problem worse. Try to avoid the panic stage by stopping what you’re doing and relaxing. Do purse-lipped breathing to help your breathing, and use your rescue inhaler as your doctor ordered.

When should I call my doctor?

Pay close attention to your symptoms, and call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

elderly female patient coughing as doctor examines her back with a stethoscope

  • More trouble breathing, chest tightness or wheezing
  • A change in your cough
  • A change in the amount, thickness, or color of your mucus
  • Fever or chills
  • Swelling in your legs or belly is increased
  • Your medicines are not working as well as they used to

When should I call 911?

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Confusion
  • If you used your rescue inhaler but it didn’t help
  • Chest pain

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