Nobody likes being sick with the flu. The body aches, fever, fatigue, and cough can keep you miserable in bed for days while your body fights off the virus.

For healthy people, this usually takes a week or so. But for the 62 million adults with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), getting the flu can be downright deadly. As COPD sufferers are at higher risk for getting the flu than the rest of the population, being prepared for flu season is extremely important.

With flu season upon us, here’s what you need to know about flu season and COPD:

The Flu and COPD Exacerbation

When you get a respiratory infection like the flu, your lungs react with inflammation, swelling, and increased mucus. People with COPD already have poor lung function and breathing problems, making the added stress from the infection even worse. This causes an increase in COPD symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, mucus production, fatigue, and low oxygen levels, among others.

A COPD exacerbation is dangerous and requires a prompt visit to your doctor. They may treat your influenza with antiviral medications and prescribe medications through a nebulizer to reduce your COPD symptoms.

COPD patients are also at high risk for serious complications from the flu. Many COPD conditions are treated with steroids and fast-acting inhalers that increase your risk for pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Thanks to an already decreased immune system, COPD patients may have more trouble combatting the flu and its effects than healthy individuals.

What you can do to prevent the flu

One of the best ways to avoid getting the flu is to get your annual flu shot. Encourage friends and family, especially those you live with or see regularly, to get their flu vaccination as well. It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor if you’re due for a pneumonia vaccine.

Some other things you can do:
  • Don’t smoke
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and mild water
  • Avoid large crowds during flu season
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible