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Emphysema, Chronic Bronchitis, and Colds

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

Catching a cold with emphysema or chronic bronchitis may also 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 are 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, chronic bronchitis, and colds, 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 mucus.

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 also raise heart rate. So, use decongestants with caution. Again, ask your doctor about medications for cold symptoms.

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

The following guidelines can help you prevent colds if you have emphysema or chronic bronchitis:

  • Make sure you wash your hands regularly.
  • Check with your doctor about getting a pneumonia and influenza vaccine. You need a flu shot every year. One pneumonia shot is usually enough to protect you from a specific type of bacterial pneumonia.
  • Avoid crowds during cold and flu season, because colds and flu can cause serious problems for people with COPD.
  • Avoid cigarette smoke and air pollutants.
  • Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
  • Report sinus problems to your health care provider; sinus infections can trigger breathing problems for those with emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Scott Keller, MD on September 18, 2012

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