Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition that makes breathing difficult. Allergies and exposure to environmental pollutants can make COPD symptoms worse.

People with COPD need to be aware of any potential irritants and triggers that may worsen their symptoms.

Some individuals with COPD may also have allergies or asthma. Dealing with the overlapping symptoms of allergies or asthma may make managing COPD more difficult.

This article will look at how allergies and allergy medications can affect COPD, some tips for dealing with allergies, and when to seek help.

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COPD affects the airways, causing inflammation and excess mucus production from irritation. This leads to the airways becoming thinner or potentially blocked with mucus, which can cause breathing difficulties and other symptoms.

Environmental allergies also affect the airways and may cause similar breathing difficulties. Having exposure to environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander may cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.

Hay fever occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks allergens such as pollen in the airways, believing that they are a threat to the body.

The body responds by causing the symptoms of hay fever, which can include:

Hay fever is common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that it affects as many as 60 million people in the United States each year.

Additionally, people with COPD may also experience asthma. People with COPD may be more sensitive to changes in the airways.

For example, in those who also have asthma, having exposure to environmental allergens such as pollen may lead to an asthma attack. In severe cases, an asthma attack may fully close the airways, which could be life threatening.

In some cases, it may be difficult to tell the difference between COPD and asthma symptoms, as they may be very similar.

When a person has both COPD and asthma, it is called asthma-COPD overlay syndrome. People with this overlap syndrome may experience more severe symptoms.

For example, one 2015 study found that people who had both asthma and COPD had an increased risk of hospitalization from their symptoms and lower survival rates.

Finding ways to manage allergies and asthma may help prevent the worsening of symptoms.

A person with COPD who also has allergies should discuss their treatment options with a doctor. This is because some medications may interact. For this reason, people should always check with a doctor before using prescription drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for asthma, allergies, or COPD.

Drugs such as inhaled steroids, decongestants, and inhalers may help ease airway inflammation.

Some OTC medications, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), may help with the symptoms of allergies.

These drugs work by stopping the immune system’s response to an allergen that triggers an attack. If OTC allergy medications such as these are effective, they may potentially reduce COPD exacerbations that occur because of allergies.

Inhaled steroids such as fluticasone (Flonase) and mometasone furoate may help reduce inflammation and mucus production, which could help reduce symptoms of an allergic reaction or asthma attack and prevent COPD exacerbation.

Medications such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) may help relieve allergy symptoms, but they may not be best for daily use.

A person should talk with a doctor in each case. Doctors may recommend different types of medications, including daily use, or “maintenance,” medications to keep the airways open and “rescue” medications to open the airways quickly during an attack.

Anyone who has COPD and allergies can take steps to deal with or help prevent allergies. The following sections will look at these steps in more detail.

Get tested

People who suspect that they have allergies or that their allergy symptoms are making their COPD worse should contact a doctor for allergy testing.

The allergist may ask the person for their medical history and conduct a physical exam before administering an allergy test.

Identifying a person’s individual allergy triggers may help them avoid allergens and prevent any symptoms.

Limit time outdoors during allergy season

It is important for people with allergies to reduce their exposure to allergens as much as possible.

If a person’s pollen allergies are particularly bad at a certain time of year, it may help to stay inside when the pollen is in the air. This is generally during the morning and early afternoon.

Clean and declutter

Having a cluttered living space may mean that there is more room for dust and allergens to collect and settle. This may trigger allergies later on. Keeping one’s living space clean and decluttered may help reduce allergies in some people.

Furthermore, changing one’s clothing and shoes and taking a shower when arriving home may keep a person from bringing allergens in from outside.

Manage pet dander

Dander from the skin of pets may make allergies worse for some people. If a person has an allergy to pet dander, they may wish to consider keeping pets out of the room where they sleep.

Regularly cleaning up pet hair, washing the pet, and brushing the pet’s coat may also help.

In some cases, a person’s allergies to pet dander may be bad enough that they may have to consider letting someone else adopt their pet.

Use an air purifier

Using an air purifier may help reduce allergens from the air inside the home.

Also, using a HEPA or ULPA filter on an air conditioning or heating unit may help trap very fine particles, such as pollen, dander, and dust. A person should change the filter regularly to ensure that it is functioning correctly.

Avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke

Smoking is the most common cause of COPD.

Some people with allergies may become particularly sensitive to cigarettes. Having exposure to cigarette smoke may cause them to have an allergic reaction and experience hay fever symptoms.

Quitting smoking, if applicable, and avoiding secondhand smoke as much as possible may help prevent symptoms or exacerbations.


Immunotherapy using allergy shots or sublingual exposure may be an option for people who cannot control their allergy symptoms. The process involves introducing an allergen to the person’s body slowly over time. This may help the body build natural defenses against the allergen.

However, allergy shots are not suitable for everyone, and they may not be effective in some people. A person should talk with a doctor to find out if this treatment option is right for them.

Anyone with both COPD and allergies or asthma should work with a doctor to find solutions. Having allergies, asthma, or both may make COPD symptoms worse. Additionally, overlaps between these conditions may put a person at risk of complications and breathing difficulties.

Finding a way to manage these symptoms in daily life is important. What works will vary in each case, which is why it is important to work with a doctor. The doctor can prescribe medications or combinations of medications to help control the symptoms with as few interactions or side effects as possible.

COPD is a chronic condition that affects how well the lungs function.

People with allergies or asthma may experience breathing difficulties due to environmental triggers. Individuals with both COPD and allergies or asthma may experience a worsening of their symptoms due to an allergic reaction.

It is important to make some lifestyle changes to reduce one’s exposure to allergens. This can help a person manage their symptoms.

Anyone with both COPD and allergies or asthma should work with a doctor to discuss the medications they take and possible methods they could try to help manage the conditions.