My Advice for Avoiding the ER

Last updated: March 2022

I am a respiratory therapist. I get to know many people with COPD. Oftentimes we become friends, and the topic comes up: “What can you do to avoid the emergency room (ER)?” Here is what I say.

What I say

Here is a list of some of the things I say:

  • As soon as you even think you need help, seek it!
  • The earlier you seek help the better.
  • The earlier you seek help, the easier it is for doctors to fix you up and get you back home.
  • Seeking help early can sometimes make it so you can be treated in the comfort of your own home.
  • Call your doctor! He or she may just need to make a simple tweak of your treatment regimen to get you feeling better. He or she may simply call in a prescription.
  • Learn your early warning symptoms of COPD and take swift actions when you observe them (more below).
  • Work with your doctor on creating a COPD action plan (more below).

What are early warning symptoms? 

These are things you may spot that let you know your body is not doing well. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey! A flare-up is coming on. Take action right now to prevent a full-fledged flare-up.”

Examples of early warning symptoms include:1-2

  • New or worsening shortness of breath.
  • New or worsening chest tightness.
  • New or worsening ankle or leg edema.
  • New or worsening anxiety.
  • Cold symptoms like sniffles and sneezes.
  • Shortness of breath with exertion, or more so than what is normal for you.
  • Wheezing.
  • Coughing that is new or worsening.
  • Increased production of mucus.
  • Colorful mucus (it’s green, or brown, or red).
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Bloating.
  • Weight loss.
  • The feeling that something is not right or out of the ordinary.

The things I named here are the ones that are commonly listed, although some early warning symptoms may be unique to you. For instance, you may experience a headache. You may experience an itchy neck or chin. So, there are many early warning symptoms you may experience that I have not listed here. If you want to add to my list please feel free to do so in the comments below.

What should you do if you experience these?

Call or email your doctor! Do it right away. A simple change to your treatment regimen may be all that you need to do to stay home.

Most doctors also have emails. If you know your doctor's email, you can email them. A nurse or doctor will respond with advice on what to do next.

What is a COPD action plan? 

There is another option - a COPD action plan. This is a plan you work on with your doctor. Ideally, it should be a written plan and should be brief. It should list your early warning symptoms and what actions you take when you experience any of these. Do you call your doctor? Or do you just grab a phone and call 911? The plan can help you make such decisions.

You can learn more about COPD action plans by reading my article, “What Are COPD Action Plans?” They are very helpful for helping you decide what actions to take and when. We highly recommend every COPD patient have one. If you do not have one, this would be a great topic to bring up at your next doctor's appointment.

What do you think?

Have you ever taken actions to prevent yourself from needing an ER? Do you know your early warning symptoms of COPD? Do you have a COPD action plan? Please let us know in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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