Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Flare-Ups
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.
- New-onset shortness of breath
- Shortness of breath you already experience is getting worse
- You are coughing more than usual
- You are coughing up more sputum than usual
- The sputum you cough up is a different color than it usually is
- Your sputum changes from clear to yellow
- Your sputum changes to green
- You have blood in your sputum
- 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
- You’re finding yourself trying to sleep in a recliner instead of in bed to breathe better
- You’re needing more pillows than normal to keep your head up while sleeping
- You’re unable to sleep. Fatigue is worse than normal for you. You’re using more rescue medicine than what is usual for you
- You lack energy to do things you usually do
- You are leaning on things to breathe more so than what is normal for you
- You’re experiencing allergy symptoms (sneezing, stuffy nose, scratchy throat, etc.)
- Body aches
- More anxiety than normal
- Swollen ankles or legs, or ankles and legs that appear more swollen than normal
- You observe you are gaining weight
- You observe you are losing weight
- 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
- You notice that you are wheezing or hear more than what is normal for you
- You keep forgetting things
- Throat clearing, or more throat clearing than you usually do
- You’re using your rescue medicine more often than you usually do
- You feel weaker than usual
- You feel irritable
- 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.
- Severe shortness of breath
- You experience confusion
- You feel lightheaded
- Someone says you don’t look right
- Someone tells you you ought to seek help
- Blue finger tips or lips
- You’re talking in short, choppy sentences because you’re so short of breath
- You’re too exhausted too talk
- Your oxygen saturation is less than 88% (does not improve when wearing oxygen)
- You feel you’re not getting enough oxygen
- 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.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to COPD?