Because influenza primarily affects the respiratory tract, it is especially dangerous for individuals with COPD and other preexisting respiratory conditions. The rate of unfavorable outcomes for patients with respiratory diseases – like COPD – is significantly higher than for the general population who contract the flu.
Flu season is quickly approaching, which means patients with COPD should take extra precautions to protect themselves. If you do get the flu, there are special considerations to improve your chances of a full recovery.
Fighting the Flu Before Infection
There are steps you should take to minimize your chance of contracting the flu. These steps are important for everyone, but especially the elderly and people with chronic diseases such as COPD.
- Avoid contact with the virus. The flu is a highly contagious disease that can spread when you’re in contact with someone carrying the flu virus. If possible, avoid encountering sick people during flu season. If you yourself are sick with the flu, minimize contact with anyone who has COPD or other respiratory problems.
- Hygiene. During flu season, be especially conscious of your hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. This is especially important when you’ve been in a highly populated area where germs are more likely to spread from person to person.
- Flu shots. A yearly flu vaccine is arguably the best way to protect yourself during flu season. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated by the end of October each year. You’re especially encouraged to receive a flu shot if you’re over the age of 65, or if you have asthma or COPD.
If You Contract the Flu
If you’re exhibiting flu symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Symptoms include fever, shivering, headache, sore throat and cough.
You may be prescribed antiviral medications within 24 hours of your symptoms starting. These medicines can shorten the duration of your illness and make your symptoms milder, preventing serious complications.
New influenza strains are constantly emerging, indicating that the flu will remain a serious problem for the foreseeable future. Being proactive and vigilant can help prevent complications from the flu in patients with COPD.
The flu could trigger exacerbations for patients with COPD, worsening symptoms beyond the expected day-to-day variation. Inhaled bronchodilators, systemic corticosteroids and antibiotics may be prescribed to manage secondary complications.
For more information about flu prevention and complications for patients with COPD, ask your primary care physician or contact Pulmonary & Critical Care Medical Associates at (717) 234-2561 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.