Does COPD Make You Immunocompromised?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) comprises progressive clinical conditions, such as chronic bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema, that affect the respiratory system.
COPD is a chronic progressive condition, one of its main clinical characteristics being airway inflammation, which typically worsens over time. One of the critical impacts of chronic inflammation is airway remodeling, which changes the immune structure of the airways.
The airway inflammation, along with other factors, makes COPD patients immunocompromised. We will present those factors, the meaning of “immunocompromised,” and actions that should be undertaken in this situation.
Does COPD Make You Immunocompromised?
Yes, COPD eventually makes you immunocompromised; however, COPD affects your immune system locally – the respiratory system only. COPD is a progressive disease affecting the respiratory system, leading to airway inflammation.
Over time, the latter leads to specific changes in the cells covering your airways. However, in addition to this distinctive impact of COPD, other factors also influence the cell structure of your respiratory system.
One of the findings of the study conducted in 2015 was the cigarette smoke impact on airways, including changes in the type of immune cells distributed in airways and their distribution overall.1
Another factor influencing the immune cells in the airways is inhaled corticosteroids. This group of medications is used to treat inflammation in the airways, especially in chronic clinical conditions, such as COPD or asthma.
However, these medications’ long-term use demonstrates their most well-known side effect – immunosuppression.
The term “immunosuppression” is often used interchangeably with “immunocompromised.” Nevertheless, what does being immunocompromised mean, and how is this state achieved during COPD?
What Does Being Immunocompromised Mean?
Simply stated, there are two types of immune cells orchestrating the immune response – attacking cells and regulatory cells. The latter regulates the immune response, aiming to limit it once the goal of the immune response is achieved. These cells used to be called suppressors due to their action purpose.
In healthy individuals, this subtle balance of immune cells is maintained; however, attacking cells become activated when the immune response takes place.
Meanwhile, regulatory cells get into action when the immune response is no more required.
When this balance is disrupted, the immune system reacts inadequately instead of a healthy immune response, making an individual more vulnerable to infections. An individual with this type of change in the immune system is called “immunocompromised.”
Nevertheless, the immune response process is far more complex than described above. More fundamental processes should occur in the immune system to call an individual immunocompromised. A person can be born with an impaired immune system or can acquire it during their lifespan (e.g., AIDS).
The long-term use of oral corticosteroids (OCS) can also lead to immunocompromised states. These medications are used during cancer treatment or after receiving an organ transplant. Also, OCS is widely used in the management of autoimmune diseases.
Vaccination in COPD Patients
Immunocompromised individuals, including COPD patients, are more susceptible to infections than healthy individuals. COPD patients are at higher risk of having severe COVID-19 than healthy individuals. If you have COPD, vaccination is the most effective way to protect yourself against certain viruses.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following specific steps to avoid getting infected (e.g., wearing a mask) or, if infected, to experience a mild/ moderate course of disease (e.g., vaccination) instead of a severe one.2
Certain risk factors of having a severe course of COVID-19, including lung diseases (e.g., COPD, asthma) or being moderately or severely immunocompromised. Individuals with such risk factors are strongly advised to get COVID-19 vaccines, as the risks of getting COVID-19 to exceed the risks of vaccine side effects.
If you have COPD, CDC recommends receiving the annual flu vaccine as well, as seasonal influenza (flu) tends to have a severe course among patients with poor lung health.3
Is It Possible to Recover from COPD?
No, COPD is a chronic progressive condition, which means the symptoms of the disease tend to worsen over time. Nevertheless, if you have COPD, there are interventions to relieve the symptoms (e.g., medications), slow down the progression of the disease (e.g., smoking cessation, diet, exercises), and protect yourself from having severe infections (e.g., vaccination).
FAQs About COPD and Immunity
Is COPD Considered an Autoimmune Disease?
No, autoimmune disease is a health condition during which the immune system fails to differentiate the foreign and own cells and starts to attack its cells.
What Is the Relationship Between COVID-19 And COPD?
Patients with COPD are at higher risk of having a more severe course of COVID-19 compared to individuals without COPD. That risk can be reduced with the help of COVID-19 vaccines.
COPD affects the immune system in your respiratory system, eventually making you immunocompromised. This state gets worsens in the presence of other risk factors, such as smoking or inhaled corticosteroids.
Immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk of having a severe course of diseases affecting the respiratory system, including COVID-19 and flu.
Appropriate vaccinations are recommended to improve the chances of having a milder course of these infectious diseases.
- Bhat TA, Panzica L, Kalathil SG, Thanavala Y. Immune dysfunction in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2015;12(Suppl 2):S169-S175. doi:10.1513/ANNALSATS.201503-126AW/SUPPL_FILE/DISCLOSURES.PDF
- People with Certain Medical Conditions | CDC. Accessed September 25, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html
- CDC H1N1 Flu | What Adults with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Should Know About 2009 H1N1 Flu. Accessed September 25, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/copd.htm
About the Author
After working as a paramedic and emergency physician, Arno has already shifted into healthcare research and medical writing for five years. While working as Healthcare Programs Coordinator, his research topics include community health and organizational healthcare. Simultaneously Arno is involved in academic writing and uses blog posts as a platform to transfer knowledge to the general audience.
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