Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Flare-Ups

Last updated: December 2022

Early warning signs are symptoms felt BEFORE COPD flare-ups occur. They act as warnings that a full-fledged flare-up is impending. When you experience them, actions taken now can prevent flare-ups. So, I thought it would be neat to list some of the most common early warning symptoms here.

Flare-up signs to look for

Take action now to prevent a full-fledged flare-up. Refer to your COPD action plan or call your doctor right away.

  1. New-onset shortness of breath
  2. Shortness of breath you already experience is getting worse
  3. You are coughing more than usual
  4. You are coughing up more sputum than usual
  5. The sputum you cough up is a different color than it usually is
  6. Your sputum changes from clear to yellow
  7. Your sputum changes to green
  8. You have blood in your sputum
  9. You’re feeling cold symptoms, such as stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, etc. You feel you can no longer lie down to sleep and have to sit up to breathe
  10. You’re finding yourself trying to sleep in a recliner instead of in bed to breathe better
  11. You’re needing more pillows than normal to keep your head up while sleeping
  12. You’re unable to sleep. Fatigue is worse than normal for you. You’re using more rescue medicine than what is usual for you
  13. You lack energy to do things you usually do
  14. You are leaning on things to breathe more so than what is normal for you
  15. You’re experiencing allergy symptoms (sneezing, stuffy nose, scratchy throat, etc.)
  16. Headache
  17. Body aches
  18. More anxiety than normal
  19. Swollen ankles or legs, or ankles and legs that appear more swollen than normal
  20. You observe you are gaining weight
  21. You observe you are losing weight
  22. Pulse ox reading lower than what is normal for you (i.e. it’s usually 97% and now it’s 92%)Feeling there’s something now right
  23. You notice that you are wheezing or hear more than what is normal for you
  24. You keep forgetting things
  25. Throat clearing, or more throat clearing than you usually do
  26. You’re using your rescue medicine more often than you usually do
  27. You feel weaker than usual
  28. You feel irritable
  29. There may be other early warning symptoms that are unique to you. If we missed a symptom you experience, let us know in the comments below.

Late signs of a COPD flare-up

These are symptoms and signs it’s time to seek help right now. Have someone drive you to the emergency room or call 911.

  1. Severe shortness of breath
  2. You experience confusion
  3. Dizziness
  4. You feel lightheaded
  5. Falling
  6. Someone says you don’t look right
  7. Someone tells you you ought to seek help
  8. Blue finger tips or lips
  9. You’re talking in short, choppy sentences because you’re so short of breath
  10. You’re too exhausted too talk
  11. Your oxygen saturation is less than 88% (does not improve when wearing oxygen)
  12. You feel you’re not getting enough oxygen
  13. Chest pain or tightness (new or worse than usual)

Determine an action plan for future flares

You can work with your doctor to determine what is normal for you. Your doctor can help you develop a COPD action plan. This is a plan you work on with your doctor. Part of this plan involves writing down what actions to take when you experience new or worsening symptoms. Actions may include taking your rescue medicine. Actions may also involve calling your doctor or 911. Don’t wait. The earlier you seek help the better.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

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

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

What stage was your COPD diagnosed as?