Expert Answers: When COPD Symptoms Get Worse

Sometimes, COPD can cause a person to experience a sudden worsening of symptoms of the condition. These can be called COPD "exacerbations", “attacks”, or “flare-ups.” These COPD attacks can be very scary, especially when they happen all of a sudden, without warning. We’ve noticed several community members asking what to do if or when this happens, so we asked our experts John, Leon, and Lyn to share some advice for the following question:

What do I do if my symptoms suddenly get worse? 


It is now recommended that every COPD patient have a COPD Action Plan. This is a plan you work on with your doctor to help you decide what actions to take when you feel symptoms. Should you use your rescue inhaler? Should you call your doctor? Should you go to an emergency room? The plan will guide your actions. Still, that said, if your symptoms get worse, and you are not sure what to do, seek medical attention immediately -- at least call your doctor. Keep in mind that the earlier you seek help the easier it will be to get you feeling better.


A flare-up is when some or all of your symptoms suddenly get worse. Symptoms can be your cough and/or shortness of breath, and may include an increase in the amount of mucus.
If you have a sudden worsening of your symptoms you can:

However, if the symptoms are severe, you may need to call 9-1-1, or go to the emergency department.


We recommend that all our patients have a COPD Action Plan for monitoring their symptoms.

You can ask your Pulmonologist for one or you can access one online. Here are a few I like:

Essentially they provide an algorithm to follow whether you’re feeling well, slightly worse, or much worse. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may feel you can manage them at home with a preplanned strategy or you may need to seek medical help.

How about you? Do you have go-to strategies for flare-ups that other people in the community might find useful? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

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