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Your Action Plan for a COPD Flare-Up.

Your Action Plan for a COPD Flare-Up

Hopefully, if you carefully follow your COPD treatment plan, your health will stay on an even keel most of the time. It’s realistic, however, to expect that from time to time, you’ll suffer with something called a COPD exacerbation. This long medical term simply means that you’re having a sudden worsening of your COPD symptoms, one that can last from a few hours to a few days. Flare-up, or attack, are more common terms used by non-health care professionals to describe this.

Exacerbations are generally caused either by a respiratory infection that further weakens your already weakened airways or by being exposed to some kind of environmental irritant or poor air quality.

With care and forward thinking, you should be able to take steps to keep flare-ups from disturbing your health on a regular basis.

In other words, you need an action plan.

Think of this action plan as having 3 prongs:

  • Prevention
  • Recognition
  • Fast Action

Let’s look at each of these areas in more detail.

Prevent Attacks Where You Can

Your best bet for dealing with COPD flare-ups is to prevent them from happening altogether. You won’t always succeed, but any efforts you can take in that direction will go a long way toward keeping you at your best level of health. Here are some things you can do to prevent COPD attacks from getting started in the first place.

  • Get a yearly flu shot and a pneumonia shot as recommended by your doctor. Keeping these two biggie respiratory illnesses at bay is one of the best ways to avoid a flare-up.
  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap, or use hand sanitizer. This can help you avoid viruses found in the environment, such as the common cold virus.
  • Avoid other people who are sick with colds, flu or pneumonia. During the winter, when these infections are most common, your best bet might be to stay away from crowds as much as possible.
  • Maintain your healthy lifestyle. Drink lots of water, make healthy food choices, get 8 hours of sleep a night. All these things will strengthen your resistance.
  • Avoid situations or places that will put you into contact with poor air quality or your known irritants, such as pet dander, if you are sensitive. Anything that affects your airways can trigger a COPD attack.

Recognize Danger Signs

Who knows your body better than you? The next step, then, is to be aware of how you are feeling and pay attention to changes in how you are feeling and breathing. Here are some signs to watch out for:

Take Quick Action

As soon as you realize you are in the midst of a COPD exacerbation, then it’s your cue to take action to begin relieving it. Talk with your doctor ahead of time about what your plan of action should be, and when the right time to take each step might be.

If you use supplemental oxygen only at night or as needed, your action plan may state to start using it continuously while your COPD is flaring up. Or, if you are already on continuous oxygen, perhaps your doctor will tell you that you may increase the flow rate by a liter or two per minute.

Some people use rescue inhalers or nebulizer treatments for short-term relief of breathlessness and coughing. These medications can relax and expand your airways to make breathing easier.

Rest is also important during a flare-up. Allow your body to gather energy to recover from the attack. Focus on controlling your breathing and relaxing, if you can.

Sometimes, an attack worsens so quickly or so severely that you will need to call the doctor. You might even need to make a visit to the emergency room. Here are some danger signs that require professional health care help:

  • Blue tint around the lips or fingernails
  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath to the point where you are unable to talk
  • Mental confusion
  • Extreme anxiety

In Summary

COPD flare-ups can be frightening. But when you know what to expect and how to take the right actions, hopefully you’ll be able to avoid severe health crises and to get back on an even keel once again.

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.


  • Pepsibrownjohn
    1 year ago

    I am not sure if I am contravening rules. I had my first
    COPD exacerbation while overseas .
    I had flown from NZ to London -1 very brief stopover.
    ( stupid, stupid mistake)
    It seems we all get varying symptoms . Mine was a gradual buildup of fluid , clearing my throat frequently & rapid shallow breathing . No temp. No cough etc
    I have kept emphysema at bay for a long time – I trial all
    treatments providing they are not ridiculous & to date have avoided O2 use.

    I phoned GP ( NZ) & he told me to start GOLD treatment- Prednisolone –
    plus an antibiotic prophylaxis, all prescribed & with me in my luggage.
    I was really very frightened . In the UK Lakes district ,many miles from home & on a coach tour.
    I figured if I could just take it easy till I got to London & a
    hospital all might be well.

    The GOLD treatment helped within hours , I used magnesium ” oil” to ease the inevitable diaphragm pain
    & my aerosols /spacer.
    A nasty thing ,as time passed ,was the Prednisolone effect on my stomach. ( High doses, extended days of ingesting the drug)
    A local GP prescribed a gastric acid inhibitor. It didn’t give me much relief of symptoms , but probably stopped an ulcer developing.
    On return to London I was much better, but I was still careful not to force myself to do too much- to walk too far etc

    I decided the plane journey had brought on the situation
    and was really determined to take very good care of myself on the way home
    I asked for ” DISABLED TRANSPORT ” in transit ,I
    stayed with fresh fruit , refused sweetened juice – a sort of fast or food combining method . I had no wish to become bloated on airline foods.
    Saw my homeopathic / herbalist on return after resting for a couple of days & my GP soon after that.
    I hope it will be a long time before I ever experience this again.
    I wonder what others do to manage at such a time .
    I wonder if others experience this need to constantly clear the throat
    I was told ‘ pulmonary & or upper airways oedema is not
    usual in emphysema – but I am not so sure about that.
    I know what I felt & it wasn’t fluid from the sinuses.
    In fact , I sometimes wonder just how much is known or
    understood about the disease.
    Deemed ” incurable ” , progressively worse etc .I have never read one positive bit of research .
    I refuse to become depressed , I worked till I was 71&
    I think doing my own thing – sensibly- helps me a lot

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi again, Pepsijohnbrown. Your post, as a reply/comment to Kathi’s article is fine. We always appreciate you sharing your COPD condition experiences.
    If you are interested, here is a link to our community rules: This will guide you as to what is permitted and what is not. If you look around the website, you will see we have forums, stories, questions & answers, etc. There are many parts to our website where you can continue to post and share your experiences and information.
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

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