Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of common lung diseases that affects the airways. It causes inflammation, excessive mucus production, and irritation. Many allergies, especially environmental ones like allergies to pollen, also cause airway irritation, as well as other symptoms such as congestion and fatigue. When someone has both COPD and allergies, these symptoms can overlap and cause complications. Keep reading to learn more about how allergies can complicate COPD symptoms.
Since COPD is a group of lung diseases, there are variations in symptoms. Inflammation, excessive mucus production, and irritation are the most common symptoms, but there are other symptoms to look out for as well. The inflammation and irritation often make it difficult for people to breathe, which can cause them to wheeze and cough.
COPD affects the entire body, not just the lungs. Many people with COPD also experience weight loss, fatigue, and swelling through the legs. Sometimes these symptoms can appear worse than others, and they can vary through any given week—or even any given day.
Allergies come from a wider range of causes than COPD, so there are more symptoms that you should look out for. People with COPD have to pay particular attention to symptoms of airborne allergens, such as pollen and dust. These allergens can cause lung and airway irritation, congestion, fatigue, wheezing, sneezing, itchiness, runny nose, and watery eyes. In extreme cases, allergens can cause an anaphylaxis reaction, which can cause someone to lose consciousness, vomit, struggle to breathe, and more.
Other allergens, such as those to food or a particular drug, can cause swelling in the mouth or throat, hives, itchiness, wheezing, and rashes. These allergens can also prompt an anaphylactic reaction, even though they’re not airborne.
While COPD and severe allergies can cause disruptions to everyday life on their own, having both can cause further complications. Since someone with COPD already has an inflamed, irritated airway with extra mucus that can trap allergens, they’re at higher risk for experiencing some of the worst allergy symptoms we listed above. Some of those symptoms affect the airway as well, which can make it even harder for someone with COPD to breathe.
Many of the drugs that treat those overlapping symptoms aren’t safe for someone with COPD. This is because many people with COPD are already on medications to ease their COPD symptoms, and those drugs can negatively interact. Even over-the-counter allergy medication isn’t always safe for someone with COPD, so you should always consult with your doctor before taking anything for any symptom.
Daily Use vs. Rescue
There are two categories of medications for people with COPD, allergies, or both. One category is medication for daily use, and the other is for rescue purposes. These names are self-explanatory. Daily-use medication is something you’ll take every day for your COPD, allergies, or both, to help ease those symptoms and keep you healthy. Rescue medication is something you would only take if you were having a COPD or allergy attack that was closing your airway. Depending on the severity of your COPD or allergies and whether your allergies are seasonal, your doctor may prescribe both kinds of medication or only one.
Seasonal COPD and Allergies
Some people only experience seasonal allergies, which can range in severity. Seasonal changes can also affect COPD and make it harder to breathe. Extreme humidity, extreme heat, and extreme cold can all cause COPD to worsen temporarily. Common spring, summer, and winter allergens are pollen, insects, mold, and dust, and they can also cause breathing problems depending on your exposure level and the severity of your reaction.
As we mentioned above, you’ll need to talk to your doctor about medication for seasonal allergies. To prevent your COPD from getting worse in different weather, try to avoid going outside when the weather is extreme and invest in proper clothing. A dehumidifier, raincoat, and durable rain boots can help in the rainy spring months. Light, airy clothing and adequate air conditioning can help in the summer. Wearing a thick coat, hat, scarf, and gloves can help in the winter.
Long-Term COPD and Allergy Treatments
Depending on your type of COPD and the symptoms you experience, your doctor will put you on a long-term care plan. Some of those plans could include daily use and rescue medications, as we mentioned above, along with other treatments such as oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and in some cases, surgery. Changing to a healthier lifestyle where you stop smoking, eat healthily, and exercise regularly is often part of these treatment plans.
Unfortunately, there are few long-term allergy treatment options. Some allergists can prescribe immunotherapy or allergy shots, but these aren’t available for all types of allergies. Most long-term allergy treatments will come in various daily use or in the form of rescue medications that you take as prescribed. As we mentioned above, some of these medications could interact with medications you’re already on for COPD, so you’ll have to consult your pulmonologist if your allergist wants to put you on medication. If your allergies mainly affect your lungs, your allergist or another healthcare provider may suggest lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking to help your lungs stay healthy longer. This won’t reduce your symptoms or cure your allergies, but it will help you breathe easier.
Knowledge Is Power
If you don’t know whether you have allergies, but your doctor has diagnosed your COPD, then you need to get tested for allergies. Even if you’ve never had an allergic reaction before, knowledge is power and will give you better control over your health. Get tested for allergies as soon as possible, even ones that don’t affect your lungs, so you can make sure that the treatments don’t interfere with each other.
Understanding your COPD symptoms, allergy symptoms, overlapping symptoms, symptom treatments, seasonal COPD or allergy problems, and long-term treatment options helps in cases when allergies can complicate COPD. If you don’t know whether you have any allergies, get tested after your COPD diagnosis to make sure you stay fully informed about your health.
If your doctor has prescribed oxygen therapy as one of your long-term COPD treatments, regardless of your allergy status, we can help you get the supplies you need. Bridge to Care offers affordable oxygen concentrators and accessories so you can breathe easier on a budget.