Preparing for Emergencies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015. | Last updated: August 2017

Being prepared for emergencies is crucial for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are two types of emergencies to prepare for:

  • Medical emergencies, such as severe COPD flare-ups
  • Environmental emergencies, such as power outages or natural disasters

How can COPD patients prepare for medical emergencies?1

Acute exacerbations, which are also called COPD flare-ups, happen when COPD symptoms suddenly get worse. If the symptoms are very severe, the patient may need emergency treatment right away. It is important to act quickly if the symptoms are very severe. If they are not treated right away, severe flare-ups can be dangerous or even life-threatening.

The best way to prepare for this kind of situation is having an up-to-date COPD management plan. Patients should prepare this plan with their healthcare providers and have it on hand at all times. If patients need emergency care, the plan will provide healthcare workers with vital information about the patient’s disease and help them decide how to treat the flare-up in the best possible way.

Examples of severe symptoms that may require emergency treatment are:

  • Very severe breathlessness, even while resting
  • Not being able to sleep or do any activity due to breathing trouble
  • Fever, shaking, or chills
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Chest pains
  • Coughing up blood

The COPD emergency management plan should include information about how to contact:

  • Emergency services
  • The patient’s primary care physician
  • The patient’s emergency contact

How can COPD patients prepare for environmental emergencies?

Environmental emergencies may include:

  • Electricity outages
  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Fires
  • Snow or ice storms

These kinds of emergencies do not happen very often, but they can be dangerous for COPD patients, so it is important to prepare for them. This is especially true for COPD patients who are on oxygen therapy.

Some tips for preparing for environmental emergencies include:

  • Prepare for power outages by having gas-powered generators with an extra fuel supply.
  • Patients on oxygen therapy that requires electrical power should have an emergency back-up supply of alternative oxygen sources, such as liquid oxygen.
  • Have a portable oxygen supply available in case the patient needs to be evacuated from the home.
  • In case of a natural disaster, use a mask to filter out poor quality air.
  • Have a portable emergency medicine pack ready. This should include a supply of all of your daily maintenance medications, as well as an extra supply of rescue inhalers. Include a list of all medication names and dosages in the pack.
  • Have a “mock disaster drill” to prepare for all possible emergencies. This can help patients to react more calmly in case an emergency does happen.
  • Let friends and neighbors know what kind of help you will need during an emergency situation.
  • Have a list of emergency contact numbers, including police, fire departments, and power companies. Let them know if you are a COPD patient who requires oxygen.

If an emergency does happen, it is important to stay calm and stick to the emergency plan. Panicking can cause symptoms like breathlessness to get worse.

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

More on this topic