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What Should I Do During a Flare-up?

Sometimes flare-ups seem to blindside the progress you have been making.  They come out of no where with a staggering punch.  There may be times that you can’t pinpoint the reason for a flare-up, making them difficult to prevent.  Then there is the cold and flu season, affecting the healthy and the weak alike.  When a flare-up happens what should you do?

Call your doctor

I understand that placing a call to your pulmonologist and waiting for a response back, only to find out that you need to go into the office, can be annoying.  However, allowing your doctor to evaluate your flare-up is important to your recovery.

Follow your doctor’s instructions

Your doctor may ask you to take antibiotics, steroids or other medications to try to stop the flare-up as quickly as possible.

Slow down and rest.

There are some people with COPD that will try to continue doing all of the things that they have always done, even during an exacerbation.  It is hard to slow down, especially when there are feelings that if you do slow down, you may never be able to do as much again.  There is some truth in that since physical activity may have a preventative effect on the hospital readmissions.1  However, just like when you have the flu, you need to give yourself permission to get better.  There will be time to push through more respiratory therapy as you gain strength back.

Do not be stubborn

If you have family members that are begging you to call your doctor, this is not the time to show just how stubborn you can be.  This is the time to listen to their concerns and make that phone call.  Flare-ups can become much worse if they are not dealt with quickly.  I have seen first-hand how a flare-up can begin small, but when days pass and the condition gets worse, it leaves less options for your doctor.

Be willing to go to the hospital

Once a flare-up has gotten to the level that your pulmonologist needs to place you in the hospital, you know that you have waited too long.

As COPD progresses there may be times that you will call your doctor early in an exacerbation and the only response will be to go directly to the hospital.  This depends upon where you are in this journey and your doctor.  This is a very important time.  This is not the time to refuse to leave the house.  This is the time to go and get the help that you need.

The one thing that I believe all COPD patients can agree on is that you do not want your condition to get worse.  This is why it is important to do what you can to stop flare-ups as quickly as possible, halting any further damage to your lungs.

Flare-ups can take you off guard, but if you commit to staying proactive with your care when they occur, you will increase your chances of recovering quickly.

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.

  1. Patient's perception of exacerbations of COPD—the PERCEIVE study. Respiratory Medicine , Volume 101 , Issue 3, 453 - 460 Miravitlles, Marc et al.


  • Jean
    3 years ago

    One thing not mentioned here is that the most important thing you can do with your doc is develop an action plan for when you do develop something respiratory. Many docs will provide patients who are relatively stable and who know themselves well with antibiotics and prednisone to keep on hand and to be begin taking as soon as you know you have something respiratory.

    My deal with my doc is that I keep both levaquin, Z-pak and prednisone on hand. As soon as I start coughing up or blowing out yellow or green junk, I start one or the other (levaquin for sinus and Z-pak for chest) and call his office. I always tell them what the time frame has been, what I’m doing on my own (drinking water, using OTC cough medicine, taking mucinex, taking ibuprophen, gargling with salt water, eating chicken soup, etc), when I started the antibiotic and/or pred and what else should I do. Usually I get a call back within an hour telling me to continue doing what I’m doing and call him if things don’t clear up in a couple of days. I haven’t had to call back in five or six years and I’ve never been hospitalized.

    I think establishing this sort of partnership with your doc is critical. It’s also critical to understand that while the rest of the world can “tough it out”, we can’t. Doing that is a certain ticket to the hospital and possibly to ICU. Those kinds of illnesses can do a whole lot of additional damage to your lungs that you can’t undo. You don’t want that.

    So talk with your doc and develop an action plan, PLEASE!

  • EAT2017
    2 weeks ago

    Thank you Jean! I actually have not done this with my doctor but I am going certainly ask about it when I see him next. What a great idea. Kudos to no hospital visit in 6 years. That’s an accomplishment.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Jean and thanks so much for sharing your own experiences and suggestions about how to deal with an exacerbation or flare-up. I’m sure others from our community who read what you wrote will benefit and be able to apply your ideas to their own circumstances.
    I thought, in view of your comment, that you might find it helpful to review this material on a management plan for COPD:
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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