COPD flare-up: symptoms, treatment and prevention

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to a group of diseases that cause blockage of airflow and affect breathing. COPD causes symptoms that get worse and better in cycles.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)COPD was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2018. About 15.7 million people in the country have been diagnosed with the disease.

People with COPD may experience exacerbations or flare-ups in which their symptoms worsen for a period of time. Flare-ups can be the result of certain preventable triggers, and they may be less severe if a person starts treating them in the early stages.

In this article, we explain what a COPD flare-up is, how long it can last, and when a person should seek help. We also look at how to manage and prevent COPD flare-ups.

A relapse is a worsening of COPD symptoms, usually due to triggers that include allergens or lung infections caused by a virus, such as the flu. COPD flare-ups can be serious and are the The most common reason for hospitalizations in people with the disease.

COPD symptoms can get worse quickly and a person may suddenly have difficulty breathing, producing phlegm, coughing, and wheezing. They may also experience increased anxiety or have trouble sleeping.

A COPD flare-up may be easier to manage if a person recognizes the warning signs of an impending exacerbation. The first symptoms may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat
  • cold and flu symptoms
  • cough more than usual
  • a change in the color of the mucus, which may be brown, yellow, or green
  • produce more mucus, which may be stickier and thicker than usual
  • swollen ankles
  • feel the need to sleep sitting up rather than lying down
  • waking up at night coughing
  • wake up with a headache
  • tired

Persistent COPD symptoms that may suddenly worsen during a flare-up include:

  • wheezing or wheezing when breathing
  • shortness of breath, especially during physical activity
  • tightness in the chest
  • a continuous cough that may produce mucus

A COPD flare-up can happen unexpectedly, so health experts recommend have a COPD action plan to follow. If a person experiences warning signs of a flare-up, they should follow their COPD action plan. This may involve:

  • try to stay calm and not panic, which could make breathing difficulties worse
  • take an antibiotic or corticosteroid pill as advised by a doctor – for example, the doctor may recommend taking corticosteroids or antibiotics at the first signs of infection or a cold
  • seek medical attention if breathing remains shallow or faster than usual and it is difficult to breathe deeply

A person should also seek emergency medical attention for the following symptoms:

  • coughing up black mucus
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing without sitting forward
  • confusion
  • extreme drowsiness
  • difficulty speaking
  • blue fingertips or lips
  • frequent headaches
  • high fever

Certain triggers can cause a COPD flare-up. These can include:

  • weather changes
  • feeling anxious or stressed
  • lung infections, colds and other illnesses
  • smoke and other pollutants
  • feeling exhausted

A COPD flare-up can last days or weeksand a person may need corticosteroids, antibiotics, or hospital treatment to recover.

In the later stages of COPD, a person may have more regular flare-ups, which can lead to irreversible lung damage. It is important for a person to recognize the early signs of a flare-up and seek treatment immediately to avoid more serious symptoms.

At the first signs of a flare-up, a person can take steps to help manage symptoms. These include:

  • stay calm to keep breathing as evenly as possible
  • contact a doctor
  • taking medications, which may include steroids and antibiotics, as directed by a doctor
  • using oxygen through nasal prongs or a mask if a doctor has prescribed it
  • trying breathing techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing

A person can take certain steps to prevent COPD flare-ups. These include:

  • quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
  • have a medical-grade pulse oximeter
  • use oxygen, if a doctor prescribes it
  • to take pills
  • start a pulmonary rehabilitation program
  • attend regular health check-ups
  • avoid people with colds and other contagious viral infections
  • have all the recommended vaccinesincluding the COVID-19[female[feminine a
  • wash your hands frequently
  • avoiding pollutants, including smoke and dust, whenever possible
  • avoid extremely cold temperatures
  • stay as active as possible
  • have a nutritious and well-balanced diet

A COPD flare-up is a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms, which may include cold or flu symptoms, coughing, and phlegm production.

COPD flare-ups can be severe and cause lasting damage to the lungs. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor after any persistent symptoms that do not respond to treatment. These symptoms may include coughing up dark mucus, chest pain, and lips and fingertips that turn blue.

A person can manage a COPD flare-up with breathing techniques, medication, and oxygen. They can help prevent flare-ups by taking medication, avoiding pollutants and other triggers, and starting a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

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