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Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and Flu

If you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis, you need to be extra vigilant in preventing flu. You already know that, with emphysema or chronic bronchitis, it's difficult to breathe under normal circumstances. But the combination of lung disease and flu, a respiratory viral infection, worsens your breathing problem, making it very difficult to breathe through the obstructed, inflamed airways.

In addition, getting flu with emphysema or chronic bronchitis increases the chance of bacterial infections such as pneumonia. This serious infection occurs because of the airway obstruction and inability to cough out infected mucus.

What is COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term that describes these two illnesses -- emphysema and chronic bronchitis -- both of which limit airflow. This limitation makes it very difficult to breathe and be active. Emphysema destroys air sacs deep in the lungs, while chronic bronchitis causes inflammation, congestion, and scarring in the airways.

According to the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), COPD is preventable and treatable. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis can occur separately or together and usually result from cigarette smoking. In addition, although it happens rarely, a genetic form of emphysema can occur early in adulthood, even if you've never smoked.

What Are the Symptoms of Flu With COPD?

With COPD (emphysema or chronic bronchitis) and flu, your normal COPD symptoms will worsen. Specifically, cough increases in frequency and severity, mucus production increases in volume or thickness, and shortness of breath increases.

With COPD and flu, you may also feel the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fever (usually high)
  • Severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
  • Generalized weakness
  • Ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Sore throat and watery discharge from the nose

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Symptoms: What You Might Feel.

What's the Treatment for Flu With COPD?

First, if you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis, it's important to stay on your prescribed COPD medications, such as bronchodilators or inhaled steroids. Also, check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter flu treatment. If your doctor approves, you might treat the body aches and fever associated with flu with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

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