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Deborah Leader, RN

What Friends & Family Should Know About COPD

By December 5, 2011

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I recently received an email from a gentleman who has both COPD and lung cancer. He was concerned about his family not really understanding the disease and how airway irritants may affect his condition. Take a look at what he had to say:

I have COPD and also lung cancer (5 yr with no recurrence.)  My friends and family do not understand my need for air conditioning, the effects of perfume, men's toiletries, smoking around me and fumes from cleaning products. Please print some guidelines in STRONG LANGUAGE. Maybe they and others will be more considerate. Hope you can help.

COPD is a lung disease that is caused primarily by airway irritants. The main culprit behind the disease is smoking, but, other airway irritants such as long-term exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke, and occupational exposure to harsh chemicals, dust or fumes, can also lead to a COPD diagnosis.

Once a person has the disease, the lungs are already damaged. Further exposure to airway irritants only damages them more, and, depending upon the degree and length of time of the exposure, could possibly lead to a further decline in lung function.

If you have a family member who has COPD, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid smoking inside the home. If you must smoke, do so outside. Secondhand smoke may lead to further damage to the lungs of someone who has COPD and third-hand smoke lingers on furniture, clothing and many other items which is bad for everyone, particularly children.
  • Allow for a fan or air conditioner to run, if possible. People with COPD may find that a fan blowing directly on their face, or an air conditioner running continuously, helps them to breathe better. If this is the case, try setting the thermostat at a comfortable temperature for all. If you find you are still uncomfortable with a cooler environment, bundle up while inside with extra blankets or a sweater.
  • Do not wear heavy scented perfumes or aftershaves around your loved one. This can irritate the lungs and exacerbate his or her COPD symptoms.
  • Use natural cleaning products to clean your home, instead of harsh chemicals. If you must use harsh chemicals to clean, forewarn your loved one and make sure the home is properly ventilated.
  • Improve the quality of the air inside your home. Because people with COPD spend a great deal of time indoors, it is important that the air they breathe is clean. Check out these 10 tips to improve your indoor air for some handy suggestions.

I hope this helps our reader and other people who have similar concerns. That said, what do you want friends and family to know about COPD? Share your story.

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December 6, 2011 at 5:48 am
(1) Vlad says:

Thank a lot, Deborah.

I wish I have some kind of A4 blank with some pictorial information, reflecting points you’ve mentioned.

It’ll help people to catch these points at once.


December 8, 2011 at 7:59 pm
(2) Joel says:

I have been suffering with severe to very severe copd for at least 12 years. I follow the Doctors’ suggestions very closely. i work hard at my cardiopulmonary exercises so that I will be around to see my grandchildren graduate college and perhaps married.
I am very firm about cosmetics, smoking, other peoples colds if I am at a family function. I notice that people are sometimes very selfish about attending a function even with the sniffles or just getting over an infection. My immune system cannot handle those airborne germs. And I say something about it. If people are offended, that’s too bad! It’s my life we are dealing with here. I have at times removed myself from the company just so I won’t be affected. Yes, you should certainly be proactive when it comes to your well being.

December 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm
(3) deborah says:

Vlad, you can print out the post. Look to the right of the page once you click on the permalink at the bottom of the blog post.

December 12, 2011 at 6:03 am
(4) maureen nesbit says:

so true i find perfume the worst

December 24, 2011 at 8:29 pm
(5) Zig says:

My most upsetting misunderstandings about having emphysema is that my friends don’t trust me when I tell them I can’t go out that particular day, as in yesterday. Nothing more I’d like to do is be with my special friends, but it was over 90F (30Celsius) and a small wind. There is also all the conversation when we get together, and just these things alone, and combined (there are so many issues on this subject), where talking and laughing after a while drains the living daylights out of me; it also creates exacerbations, where I my oxy levels drop so much and the pain increase, that I have had to go to hospital, emergency dept. as a result. Has anyone else experienced this? I’d love to hear from you! Wishing everyone an easier breathing life.

January 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm
(6) Simon Krankheit says:

Thats very true what you wrote, Joel. People should care about other people but the most you have to care about yourself, especially if it affects your own health.

@Zig, i experienced that. Laughing same as coughing costs your body energy, you have to breath in deeper and the result is sob.

February 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm
(7) Wmnsolitaire says:

Recently went to an outting with my husband and his brother(s) family. We decided to ride with them to a resteraunt verses drive separately, as they are from out of town every minute counts. Big mistake on our part. His wife’s a registered nurse and knows I have COPD, severe. While in the car she coughed and coughed so much I asked her if she had seasonal allergies and she said “no”… I sunk into my seat – knowing I was riding in the car with a person that was sick and couldn’t do anything about it. I covered my mouth and nose with my sweater the rest of the way – and sat at the far end of the table … I was upset & disturbed the insensitivity of my condition wasn’t acknowleldged and from a healthcare field professional- going forward, I’m going to ask if anyone is sick beforehand, if so, I’ll pass on the invitation. My eldest daughter doesn’t understand the condition(s) I’ve been living with – she’s been residing on the West Coast for the past 15 years. She’s moved back just weeks ago — living with us as she’s going through a divorce. I’ve asked her not to wear perfume around me, as it’s been equally difficult to be around since getting a flu last week. She doesn’t seem to get it, as today I could smell it on her again. I grabbed a mask & put it on – hard to think I’m going to be challeged with this issue around her she’s nearly 40!

September 18, 2013 at 12:29 pm
(8) Lisa says:

Yes people who are sick any kind of sick is very bad for us, your sniffles is a stay at the hospital for us and a very long recovery period.

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