If you have been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for a while now, you may have undergone exacerbations or sudden flare-ups of respiratory symptoms.
Symptoms of breathlessness, coughing, and wheezing are manifestations of COPD exacerbations. Unless you have access to quick and careful treatment, these symptoms could make it necessary to seek emergency treatment.
Although COPD flares can be startling and uncomfortable, the scariest thing might be that their effects go beyond the attack itself. The worst part is that the more exacerbations you experience, the more hospitalizations you’ll need.
Which is why it’s crucial to learn to prevent and manage exacerbations. It can help you stay on top of the initial signs of an attack. It can help you to be healthier in general and avoid urgent trips to the doctor.
Signs of a COPD Flare
When you have a COPD exacerbation, your airway and lung functions change fast and they change dramatically. You can suddenly experience more mucus clogging your bronchial tubes. Also, the muscles around your airways may constrict significantly and cut off your air supply.
Symptoms of a COPD flare
Breathlessness or shortness of breath. You either feel like you can’t breathe deeply or you gasp for air.
Increase in coughing attacks. Coughing helps your lungs and airways to remove blockages and irritants.
Wheezing. If you hear a wheeze or whistling noise when you breathe, this means that air is being forced through a narrower passageway.
Increase of mucus. You might notice that you have started to cough up more mucus, and it can be a different color than it was before.
Fatigue or sleep problems. Sleep disturbances or feelings of exhaustion can suggest that less oxygen is getting to your lungs and through your body.
Cognitive impairment. If the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, this can be demonstrated by confusion, slowed down thought processing, depression, or memory lapses.
The important thing is that you should not wait to see if your COPD symptoms improve.
If you’re struggling to breathe and your symptoms start getting worse, you need to medicate appropriately and as fast as possible.
4 steps to manage your COPD flare
When you experience a COPD flare, first you need to review the COPD action plan that you made with your doctor. This plan probably touches on specified actions, doses, or medications around these steps to manage a flare.
- Use a quick-acting inhaler
Relief or rescue inhalers send a powerful stream of medicine straight to your constricted lungs. An inhaler should relax the tissues in your airways and make your breathing a little easier.
Commonly used short-acting bronchodilators are anticholinergics and beta2-agonists.
- Take oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
Corticosteroids reduce swelling and could help to widen your airways. This will let more air in and out of your lungs. If you don’t have them in your treatment plan, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids for you to take for a week or more after a flare. They help get the inflammation under control.
- Use an oxygen tank to get more oxygen into your body
In case you use supplemental oxygen at home, you could also use the supply during a flare. It’s best to follow the COPD action plan made by your doctor. Also, try to relax so you can control your breathing while you’re breathing in oxygen.
- Shift to a mechanical intervention
There are situations when rescue medication, anti-inflammatory steroids, and oxygen therapy don’t bring exacerbation symptoms back down to a manageable state.
If this is the case for you, you may need a mechanical intervention.
During an episode, the most important thing is to stay calm in order to minimize your symptoms.
But if you feel overwhelmed, get help right away.