Reducing your risk of chest infections

When you have COPD, preventing chest infections becomes more important than ever.

In Canada, research has shown that at least half of all COPD flare-ups (COPD exacerbations) are infectious in nature. COPD flare-ups can be caused by viral infections (such as the flu) or bacterial infections (such as bacterial pneumonia). A bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics will not treat viral infections.

Following these 10 tips can help you prevent chest infections that can affect your breathing and lead to flare-ups.

10 Tips for Preventing Infection

  1. Have a flu shot each year.

    Vaccinations are your best protection against illnesses such as the flu. The Canadian Lung Association recommends that most people with COPD receive a flu vaccine every year. Get your flu shot every fall before flu season. Ask your healthcare professional for more information. Also, talk to your doctor about your pneumonia vaccination schedule.

  2. Wash your hands thoroughly:

    • after coughing and sneezing
    • before and after preparing food
    • after handling raw meat
    • before and after eating
    • after petting an animal
    • after using the restroom
    • after touching public objects such as revolving doors, transit poles, and elevator buttons
    • after shaking hands or handling a shared article such as a pen

    Proper hand washing – or using an alcohol-based hand rub – is the most effective way to protect yourself against many infectious diseases, including the flu and common cold.

    Hand washing not only helps prevent you from getting sick, but it also reduces the risk of infecting others.

  3. Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw out the tissues as soon as you've used them. If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve. Avoid sneezing or coughing into your hand.
  4. Clean the surfaces in your home and office regularly. Shared objects (doorknobs, light switches, telephones, keyboards) quickly collect and spread germs.
  5. Keep bar soap in a self-draining holder that can be cleaned thoroughly before a new bar is added.
  6. Don't use one damp washcloth to wash more than one pair of hands.
  7. Use running water to rinse your hands.
  8. Avoid using common hand towels.
  9. Only use cleaning cloths or sponges that are changed daily and washed with detergent.
  10. If you are prescribed an antibiotic for a chest infection, be sure to take your prescription as directed by your doctor. Not taking all of your antibiotics can lead to stronger infections that are harder to treat.


*© 2013 Canadian Thoracic Society

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