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COPD Health Center

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Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and Colds

Why Should I Take Colds Seriously With Emphysema or Chronic Bronchitis?

Respiratory infections may be responsible for up to 70% of the incidents of worsened COPD. Catching a cold with emphysema or chronic bronchitis may lead to bacterial infections such as pneumonia. This occurs because of the airway obstruction and the inability to cough up infected mucus.

Sometimes, patients with COPD need to be hospitalized because of a respiratory infection and the worsening of their symptoms. Treatment may include inhaled medications, oxygen, and antibiotics to treat any bacterial infection. Antibiotics do not treat a cold.

To avoid more serious problems with emphysema and chronic bronchitis, it's important to always alert your doctor if your cold symptoms get worse. Don't wait until you have more serious breathing problems to contact your doctor.

Which Cold Treatment Should I Use With Emphysema or Chronic Bronchitis?

First, it is important to stay on your prescribed medications for emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Then, to decide how to treat cold symptoms, it's best to talk with your doctor. You might treat the body aches and fever associated with a cold with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Although antihistamines can be helpful if you have mild allergy symptoms, you should avoid them if you constantly have thick mucus; they may make it more difficult for you to cough up the phlegm.

Most over-the-counter cold remedies are generally safe for people with emphysema and chronic bronchitis. However, decongestants raise blood pressure and some of the drugs used to treat emphysema and chronic bronchitis can also raise your heart rate. So, use decongestants with caution, especially if you have high blood pressure or other heart issues in addition to COPD. Again, ask your doctor about medications for cold symptoms.

Can I Prevent Colds if I Have Emphysema or Chronic Bronchitis?

Here are some tips to help you avoid catching a cold:

Other tips for staying healthy with COPD during cold and flu season:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Make sure you are using your inhalers correctly.
  • Check with your doctor about getting an influenza vaccine. You need a flu shot every year to keep from getting the flu.
  • Check with your doctor about getting a pneumonia vaccine. One pneumonia shot is usually enough to protect you from getting very sick from a common type of bacterial pneumonia.
  • Report sinus problems to your health care provider; sinus infections can trigger breathing problems for those with emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Lisa B. Bernstein, MD on October 13, 2014
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