If you suffer with COPD, your home environment can be either a haven from the world’s pollutants and triggers, or a nest filled with irritants. Your goal should be to have the lowest polluting levels and triggers, making it as breathing-friendly as possible. You can start by removing as many instigating products as possible, purchasing versions that emit fewer triggering influences. If you live by yourself, this may be a bit easier, though it’s important to realize that neighbors can have habits or products that pervade your environment, too. If you live with someone, then they need to get on board as you tackle your home. One area of special interest should be the bedroom.
Let’s start with the obvious. Smoking should not be allowed in or around the home — certainly not in the bedroom. Even if someone regularly airs out the bedroom, smoke residue can remain on walls, carpeting, and bedding.
Keep your bed sacred. If you have a pet, there is a whole set of rules that can help limit allergen influences from your pet — at the top is keeping them off your bed. They can transport allergen particles from outdoor walks right into your sheets. You should also avoid lying down on your bed with clothes that were worn outdoors - change into fresh clothes or pajamas before lying down.
It’s important to consider the types of cleaners you use in the home and especially in the bedroom. Go natural and use vinegar mixed with water, bleach mixed with water, or very mild dishwashing soap mixed with water. You can also use hydrogen peroxide and baking soda mixed with water as general home cleansers. Look for “low VOCs” (volatile organic compounds) on cleaning-product labels, which means lower levels of ingredients that can be irritants. Remember that fumes from traditional cleaners can get trapped in your bedroom and nestle in your bedding.
If you really like to use air fresheners, make your own by simmering water and cinnamon, cloves, lemon, vanilla, or rosemary. Using a HEPA filter can help to draw allergens and particulate matter out of the air so that it doesn’t settle on furniture and bedding. Dehumidifiers can also limit buildup of mold, mildew, and bacteria, all of which can also set up shop in your bedroom.
Review laundry detergent and fabric softener labels since residue and scents from these products remain not only in clothing, and towels, but also in bedding. You can now find “sensitive, fragrance-free, dye-free” detergent and softener sheets. Still, I’m a firm believer in reading labels on even these “more pure” products. There are now allergen-free versions of pillows, pillow protectors (to reduce dust mites), mattress protectors, bedding coverlets, and duvets. Make sure that you change bedding at least twice a week and wash in hot water with fragrance-free detergent. I tell patients to use one quilt for winter and a lighter one for summer and to have both washed several times during the winter and summer seasons, or to use a duvet and wash that regularly in hot water.
Remember that grooming products like body and face creams, shampoos and conditioners, and cleansing products can all leave residue on bedding, so choose ones with the purest and simplest ingredients (short ingredient lists) and make sure your face and body are fully cleansed before getting into bed.
Another important aspect is pillow choice. People with COPD often need to sleep propped up in order to be more comfortable when sleeping at night. Try different pillows out at department or bed-and-bath stores - many now accommodate this request. Foam rubber material rather than down or feather stuffing is best for someone with COPD, since feathers are more likely to harbor dust mites. Some individuals like a cervical pillow which supports and keeps the head in one position. In some cases, investing in a bed that has a raise-the-head feature can also help when COPD symptoms progress. You can also buy foam pillow wedges to elevate your head.
Remember that some of these changes need to be personalized to your stage of disease so take the time to investigate these recommendations and find best choices that work for you.
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Eli Hendel, M.D., is a board-certified internist/pulmonary specialist with board certification in Sleep Medicine. An Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Keck-University of Southern California School of Medicine, and Qualified Medical Examiner for the State of California Department of Industrial Relations, his areas include asthma, COPD, sleep disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, and occupational lung diseases. Favorite hobby? Playing jazz music. Find him on Twitter @Lung_doctor.