COPD And Alcohol- Are They Related?

Sleep Apnea
COPD And Alcohol- Are They Related?

COPD patients need to make lifestyle changes to effectively manage their illness. Some habits such as alcohol consumption may be okay, depending on the severity of the condition. Alcohol use can have an impact on your treatment. If your doctor allows some alcohol use while managing COPD, be careful about how much you drink and how often. 

Can I Drink Alcohol if I Have COPD? 

You may be able to have a few drinks a few times a week while treating your COPD. Your doctor may even recommend an occasional cocktail as a way to reduce the anxiety that may occur with your illness. 

Other than cigarette smoking, COPD patients can still maintain their typical lifestyle behaviors, but in moderation. However, it is important to stay alert to warning signs. You may experience signs of alcohol intolerance, which can interfere with your CPOD treatment and elevate symptoms of your illness. If you notice symptom flare ups after consuming alcohol, you may need to limit your consumption or abstain. 

Does Alcohol Affect Lung Function in People With COPD?

While there is no clear link between alcohol as a cause for COPD, drinking can affect lung function, even in individuals without COPD. Alcohol can increase the risk of respiratory infection. A few drinks can paralyze the cilia, the tiny fibers in the lungs that sweep away mucus, leaving a COPD patient more vulnerable to infection. 

Alcohol also lowers glutathione, the antioxidant in your lungs. By lowering your natural defenses to infection, alcohol can contribute to worsening COPD symptoms. Being aware of patterns between your alcohol consumption and increasing COPD severity can help you make necessary lifestyle adjustments to stay healthy.

Does Alcohol Affect Sleep Quality in People With COPD?

Even healthy individuals without COPD can experience poor sleep due to alcohol consumption. We may think of a nightcap as the ideal sleep solution. But alcohol actually interrupts natural sleep patterns. Alcohol can prevent the deep REM sleep your body needs to be fully rested and rejuvenated.  Too much alcohol relaxes throat muscles, which can cause snoring and also may lead to sleep disorders like sleep apnea. 

For someone with COPD, alcohol can compound an already existing sleep problem. If having a few drinks begins to disrupt sleep, you may schedule cocktail hour earlier in the evening, rather than just before bedtime.

How Alcohol Affects Your Body When You Have COPD

Because alcohol has an adverse effect on lung function, COPD patients have to be especially alert to health issues from their drinking habits. 

Alcohol compromises overall health for most healthy individuals who do not live with COPD, increasing risks for liver disease, high blood pressure and heart disease. For CPOD patients regular alcohol use becomes another hurdle to living well with their illness by increasing their risk for a long list of alcohol-related diseases. Alcohol also reduces the effectiveness of your immune system, leaving COPD patients susceptible to a range of illnesses that can make CPOD symptoms worse, or even dangerous. 

COPD And Allergic Reactions to Alcohol

Many patients with COPD may not realize that they may have alcohol intolerance. Even though COPD patients may drink regularly, they may overlook symptoms of an allergic reaction to alcohol. If after having a few drinks you experience a runny nose or difficulty breathing, you may be having an allergic reaction to your cocktail. Allergic reactions can make your COPD symptoms worse. Look for other alcohol intolerance reactions such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
  • Flushing, or becoming red in the face
  • Hives (red, itchy bumps on your skin)
  • Low blood pressure

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to stop drinking and speak to your doctor. 

Can Alcoholism Lead To COPD?

While there is no evidence that excessive alcohol consumption leads directly to COPD, alcoholism can impair health overall, which may contribute to the development of COPD. Poor health can leave anyone vulnerable to compromised lung function and a weakened immune system. The lifestyle choices of someone with alcoholism may also contribute to COPD. Often drinking heavily also includes cigarette smoking, which has been proven to cause COPD.

Because of alcohol’s effect on lung function, the early symptoms of COPD may be ignored. Poor breathing from alcohol consumption becomes so common among alcoholics that they may not seek the help they need to treat the early stages of COPD.

Alcohol and COPD Medication

Alcohol can also be a health concern for COPD patients because of its interaction with commonly used COPD medications. It can also make important drugs taken to help COPD less effective.  Steroids and antibiotics which help COPD symptoms are undermined by alcohol use.  Alcohol also impacts the liver, which reduces the ability of medications to be absorbed effectively by the body. 

Alcohol can also increase the side effects of certain pain medications and anxiety medications, which can lead to a reduced heart rate and breathing rate. Anyone who drinks alcohol and is taking medications for COPD should consult with their doctor about what impact the combination may have on health. 

Alcohol-Related Deaths in COPD

While alcohol may be part of a relaxing lifestyle for those with COPD, the choice comes with an increased risk of death from the respiratory condition. Moderate to high levels of alcohol consumption are associated with a 25% increased risk of death from COPD.1  As alcohol compromises lung function, it elevates the severity of COPD, which can eventually reduce the life span of a COPD patient.  

Conclusion

COPD and alcohol may or may not work well together for most patients. While a few drinks may be relaxing, too much alcohol can be harmful. It’s important to speak with your doctor about your alcohol consumption and if it is safe while treating COPD. Carefully watch your alcohol use and be conscious of side effects that may indicate a problem.

References

  1. Recovery Village. Does Alcohol Affect CPOD?