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Preparing for Emergencies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2015

Being prepared for emergencies is crucial for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are 2 types of emergencies to prepare for:1,2

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

Preparing for medical emergencies when you have COPD

Acute exacerbations, also called COPD flare-ups, happen when COPD symptoms suddenly get worse. This may include symptoms like:1

  • Severe shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chills
  • Blue or gray lips, fingertips, or fingernails
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Fever

These symptoms need emergency treatment right away because severe flare-ups can be dangerous or even life-threatening.1

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The best way to prepare for this kind of situation is to have an up-to-date COPD management plan. You should prepare this plan with your doctor and have it on hand at all times. If you need emergency care, the plan will give first responders and doctors important details about your condition and help them treat your flare-up in the best possible way.1

Your COPD emergency management plan should include information about how to contact:1

  • Emergency services
  • Your primary care doctor
  • Your emergency contacts

Preparing for power outages and natural disasters when you have COPD

Natural disasters may cause your electrical power to go out. Common reasons for power outages include:2,3

  • High winds
  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Wildfires
  • Snow or ice storms
  • Planned electrical grid maintenance

It is important to prepare for these types of emergencies, especially if you are on oxygen therapy.2,3

Steps you can take to prepare for power outages and natural disasters include:2,3

  • Have a gas-powered generator with an extra fuel supply. Consider purchasing a backup generator as well.
  • Have an emergency backup supply of alternative oxygen sources, such as liquid oxygen.
  • Have a portable oxygen supply available in case you need to be evacuated from your 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 medicines, as well as an extra supply of rescue inhalers. Include a list of all drug names and dosages in the pack.
  • Have a "mock disaster drill" to prepare for all possible emergencies. This can help you 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 require oxygen.
  • Alert your power company about your medical equipment that needs power, like your CPAP/BiPAP machine, ventilator, oxygen concentrator, or nebulizer.
  • Have car adapters and extra batteries for your nebulizer, CPAP/BiPAP machine, and portable oxygen concentrator.
  • Register for a special-needs or emergency shelter that has oxygen, electricity, and air conditioning.

If an emergency does happen, it is important to stay calm and stick to the emergency plan. Panicking can cause symptoms like shortness of breath to get worse.1-3