THE COPD CAREGIVER GUIDE: At Home with COPD
At-home advice for COPD caregivers
"COPD is a progressive disease, and the best we can do is slow it down,” says Norman H. Edelman, MD, Vice President of Health Sciences at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and Executive VP and Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association. That being the case, reducing smoke and other triggers in the home should be at the top of a caregiver’s must-do list.
Because smoke and fumes cause wheezing and flare-ups, doctors and pulmonary rehabilitation specialists recommend the following:
Ban tobacco smoke in and near the house. Also, avoid wood-burning fireplaces and incense. If you must heat with wood, keep a window open. And, when cooking, be sure to provide adequate ventilation.
Keep the home as dust free as possible. To keep dust mites down, Dr. Edelman advises eliminating draperies and carpeting and washing bedding weekly in hot water. For general cleaning, he recommends using a high-efficiency (HEPA or equivalent) vacuum when the COPD patient is out of the room because vacuuming stirs up dust. Although air cleaners are sometimes recommended, a recent report by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease indicates they don’t appear to provide health benefits.
Avoid products with strong chemical odors. Paints, cleaning products and insecticides, for example, can be serious irritants. When you must paint or spray for bugs, do so when the person with COPD is out of the home.
Limit the use of fragrant sprays and lotions. Hair sprays, perfumes, after-shave lotions and air fresheners can cause negative airway reactions.
Pay attention to air-quality announcements. When outdoor air quality is poor or dust levels are high, keep windows closed.
Use a humidifier. Dry air from your heating system can exacerbate symptoms. “A lot of people need humidification with their COPD,” says James Shamiyeh, MD, a pulmonologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Display an artificial Christmas tree. Fragrances from live trees can be an irritant.
Centralize essentials. Keeping things most often needed in a central location minimizes the need for excess walking or stair-climbing.
Look for ways to enhance mobility. “Stairs can be a huge problem,” says Dr. Edelman. As home elevators become more compact and affordable, they can make it possible for someone to remain in a multi-story home. Also, a motorized wheelchair or scooter is useful when the disease is advanced and walking becomes difficult.
Also check out these sections of the COPD Caregiver Guide: