The symptoms of respiratory patients, especially COPD patient,s are often worse in the winter, and it is common to have more than two exacerbations a year.
An exacerbation is a sustained worsening of the patient's condition, from the stable state and beyond normal day-to-day variations that is acute in onset. This is the most common reason that people are admitted to hospital in the UK.
It is very important for our respiratory patients to note how certain weather conditions affect their symptoms, especially in winter. Many people with respiratory conditions find that certain things can trigger their symptoms. The best way to minimise the risk of experiencing an exacerbation is to identify and reduce these triggers.
We had a very wet summer and right now we don’t know what the winter is going to bring. My advice to minimise the risk of exacerbations this year and every year, would be to follow these simple steps:
Advise your patients to take their annual vaccinations
Annual flu vaccines have been shown to reduce serious illness in people with COPD as well as the reducing hospitalisations.
Advise your patients to stay away from people who are sick
Avoid being around people who have a cold, flu and coughs. If they can’t help being around a sick family member or co-worker, make them aware that they should do what they can to protect themselves from catching something from them.
Advise your patients to speak to their doctor/nurse about creating a self-management plan
Creating a written self-management plan can be a useful tool to manage patients’ conditions and deal with potential exacerbations. A self-management plan could help to recognise when and who to call if patients’ symptoms get worse and may describe what medication to take if their condition changes.
Advise your patients to take care of themselves
Eating right, getting enough rest and taking their medication as prescribed will help control daily symptoms as well as help to stay healthy enough to fight off infections that can lead to exacerbations.
Advise your patients to stay hydrated
Unless there is a reason to limit fluid intake, drinking plenty of water daily will help thin mucus and reduce coughing. Keeping home at a comfortable humidity level can also help reduce chest congestion.
Julie Mariaki is a BLF Community Respiratory Specialist Nurse for St George's Healthcare NHS Trust (community division).
She has been practicing in the field of respiratory care for eight and a half years.
Julie did her first degree in Athens Greece and came to the UK in 2000 to continue with her studies. After working in the acute sector for two and half years, she decided to undertake the asthma/COPD module in 2002 as she was interested in respiratory nursing.
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