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How to Avoid COPD Exacerbations

Even though Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a common lung disease, symptoms can quickly worsen. Having difficulty breathing? Producing more phlegm or wheezing more? This is called a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation or COPD flare-up. Let’s look at what it’s like to experience a flare-up, how to recognize the signs and triggers, available treatments and how Presidio Home Care Aides can help you or your loved ones prevent future exacerbations and manage the disease more effectively.

Common Signs of a COPD Flare-Up

Before we get into some common symptoms of a flare-up, it’s worth noting that existing COPD symptoms are also unique to the individual. Having a clear picture of what a “good” day looks like when your COPD is under control can be helpful when managing future flare-ups. You can easily identify which symptoms are new, how long they last, and whether or not to seek medical attention. Some common signs of a COPD exacerbation include: 

  • More coughing

  • Changes to the sputum (mucus or phlegm) you cough up which may include color, thickness, or amount

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Shortness of breath or having a hard time taking a deep breath

  • Wheezing or noisy breathing

  • More fatigue or tiredness

Common Triggers

COPD exacerbation triggers are as unique as the individual. While some experience a flare-up because of irritants or allergens, others might find outdoor temperatures, smoke or someone’s perfume as triggering. When managing your COPD, it’s not only important to understand your most common symptoms but also the triggers you should avoid. 

They may include: 

  • Smoke – Cigarette smoke is a major COPD trigger, but all types of smoke can make it difficult to breathe. Other sources are secondhand smoke, wood-burning fireplaces and burning leaves.

  • Air pollution – This trigger includes smog, vehicle exhaust and fumes.

  • Extreme temperatures, allergens – Reduce your exposure to these triggers by checking the forecast, pollen count and air quality index. 

  • Chemicals & sprays – When possible, choose cleaning and personal care products that are odor- or fragrance-free; or make sure to keep the room well ventilated via open doors and windows.

Treatment Options

The sooner a person begins treatment for a COPD exacerbation, the better. Fortunately,

there’s an array of treatment options available:

  • Bronchodilators – These are typically in the form of an inhaler device or a liquid. They help relax the muscles of the airways — opening them up. For the liquid form, a person must use a machine called a nebulizer to turn the liquid into an aerosol or mist, which they then inhale into the lungs.

  • Corticosteroids – Inflammation in the lungs and airways can trigger a COPD exacerbation. Corticosteroids help reduce this inflammation. It’s available in various forms like tablets, inhaler devices, and injections. 

  • Antibiotics – Someone with COPD is more likely to develop a lung infection than those without. Antibiotics are prescribed in cases of a bacterial infection. 

  • Oxygen therapy – A person’s oxygen levels may decrease during a COPD exacerbation. Oxygen therapy could improve oxygen levels in the blood and ease symptoms like shortness of breath. For this treatment, a person inhales oxygen from a machine through a mask or via nasal tubes. 

Be sure to consult your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

Presidio Home Care & COPD Exacerbation Prevention

We understand how scary a COPD flare-up can be. But you can breathe easy knowing

that our highly trained and caring Presidio Home Care Aides will be on hand to keep an

eye on your loved ones’ symptoms, help them avoid triggers and provide updates to

their care team. Contact your office today to learn more.

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