Living Well With Lung Disease

Avoid Lung Irritants

An important way to control your symptoms and prevent acute exacerbations is to keep your airways from becoming irritated. Many things can irritate the airways, especially exhaust fumes from your stove, smoke from your fireplace, dry air, and molds and mildew from water damage in your home. If you have allergies, try to avoid exposure to whatever causes them — pollen, pet dander, house dust, mold, and so on.

Here are some specific tips for avoiding irritants:

  • Use a humidifier when the air is very dry. Moisture in the air can reduce irritation by keeping your airways moist. A humidifier is especially helpful during the winter, when the air in your home may be dry. Change the water and clean the filter of your humidifier regularly to prevent buildup of mold and bacteria.
  • Ventilate your home. Good ventilation can reduce the amount of irritating dust and cooking exhaust in the air. Use an exhaust fan vented outdoors when cooking. Avoid using a fireplace or wood stove; wood smoke is a lung irritant. Unless you are allergic to pollen and other outdoor allergens, keep windows open when the weather is warm enough. Fresh air not only helps ventilate your home but can also raise the humidity level. Although it would seem that air purifiers may help, there is no clear evidence that they are beneficial for people with COPD.
  • Have furnaces and chimneys inspected. Making sure that furnaces are operating normally can reduce the amount of smoke and fumes they emit. Having chimneys cleaned can ensure that they vent smoke and exhaust effectively.
  • Avoid aerosol products. Just about any aerosol (other than medicine or oxygen therapy) can irritate your airways. That includes hairspray, perfume, deodorant, paint sprayers, and insecticides. Instead of aerosol products, use gel or liquid preparations; for deodorants, use roll-on or stick forms.

Patient-to-Patient Tips

For many people, the toughest challenge is not controlling symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, but rather coping with the relentless march of the disease as it slowly encroaches on daily activities. Knowledgeable as your doctor and other health professionals are, they can’t advise you on the many small but significant ways that COPD can impair your ability to function. This is the sort of advice you can get only from resourceful patients who have faced the same problems you have and found ways around them. The following are tips gleaned from COPD patients.


If you find a shower or bathtub difficult, try using a bath stool. For bathing, use a hand sprayer, which may be attached to the tub faucet or shower head. When excess humidity bothers you while bathing, leave the bathroom door open and use your bathroom exhaust fan. If you feel weak, don’t take a bath or shower when you are alone. People who use oxygen may find that bathing is easier if they wear the apparatus during their bath or shower. The tubing can be draped over your shower curtain rod.


Shaving and putting on makeup is much easier if you have a low mirror so that you can sit down. Women should avoid elaborate hairdos that require tiresome setting and extended use of dryers. Try to avoid toiletries that are heavily perfumed; many patients find them irritating.


It’s a bad idea to restrict chest and abdominal expansion; avoid belts, bras, and girdles that are tight. Men may find that suspenders are more comfortable than belts. Most women find that slacks and socks are much easier to put on than pantyhose. You can place your underwear inside your pants and put them on together. Wear slip-on shoes. Putting on any kind of shoe is much easier if you use a long shoehorn (12–28 inches). You may find that cotton underclothing is more comfortable than synthetic in both warm and cold climates.

Household Gadgets

One of the handiest gadgets is a pair of pickup tongs (these look like giant scissors) for retrieving things from hard-to-reach places. Most medical supply houses stock these. Another pickup device is a magnet on a short string. It’s great for getting thumbtacks, hairpins, etc., that have fallen on the floor. If you must vacuum, use a machine with a disposable bag or a filtering method to keep dust from escaping. A small hand vacuum is easy to use for spot cleaning.

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