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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

Recently Diagnosed With COPD: Understanding COPD Exacerbations

Posted by Caleb Umstead on Jul 11, 2014 1:15:00 PM


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects patients ability to breathe and live active and normal lifestyles, though with treatment and a few lifestyle adjustments you can live a happy and active lifestyle like you once led before the diagnosis of COPD. Throughout your treatment you may notice times that you have an increased feeling of symptoms such as breathlessness, phlegm production, and coughing, which is referred to as a flare-up or also known as an exacerbation. These exacerbations are often debilitating for patients and often times the exact cause of an exacerbation is unknown or it is a combination of things. Something as little as temperature change can have drastic affects on your ability to conduct your everyday life. As your COPD progresses and as time passes on you can expect longer lasting and more frequent exacerbations.

Understanding COPD Exacerbations

What Causes COPD exacerbations? COPD exacerbations are caused by a substance or environment known as a "trigger" that exacerbate felt symptoms such as breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, and fatigue. It is extremely important to know what specific triggers exacerbate your specific symptoms and what to do to avoid them, as well as what to do when you come in contact with them. When patients immediately begin treatment for their exacerbation, their breathing returned to the same level of shortness of breath before the exacerbation. 

The most frequent causes are: 

  • Air Pollution
  • Lung Infections: Infections such as pneumonia, the flu, or acute bronchitis. These are the most common lung infections to cause exacerbations, which are usually caused from a virus or bacteria.

Infections and air pollution most commonly cause COPD exacerbations, but other possible triggers include: 

  • Cold and Hot Weather
  • Climate
  • Humidity
  • Paint Fumes
  • Second Hand Smoke
  • Strong Perfumes
  • Cleaning Chemicals

Symptoms of a COPD exacerbation

When experiencing a COPD exacerbation your usual symptoms will become heightened, which include:

  • Increased wheezing or breathlessness.
  • Increased coughing.
  • You may cough up more mucus than normal, different colors may be seen.
  • You may experience a fever
  • Sleepiness.
  • Depression.

Treatment for COPD exacerbations

Often times an exacerbation can be treated at home with the help of supplemental oxygen or other fast acting  medications such as bronchodilators and oral corticosteroids. These inhaled medications work with the bronchial tubes to open them up and ease your breathing in minutes. Whenever you begin to feel an exacerbation don't panic and immediately refer to your action plan that you and your doctor have designed, if you do not have an action plan then speak with your doctor about getting one set up.

  • Bronchodilators: These medications relax the bronchial tubes, making it easier for air to enter and exit the lungs.

  • Oral Corticosteroids: If you are already not taking oral corticosteriods as part of your regular oxygen treatment, then your doctor may prescribe them for 5 - 14 days. These medications will reduce the swelling present in your airways in return making breathing less physically demanding.

  • Oxygen Concentrator: If you are already prescribed supplemental oxygen then your doctor will tell you to use your home or portable oxygen concentrator at the first sight of an exacerbation. As the common feeling of breathlessness will begin to disperse once receiving medical grade oxygen, this is simply because the oxygen concentrator is supplementing the lack of oxygen in your blood.

To help you with COPD exacerbations download our free e-book: 13 Simple Strategies You Can Use TODAY to Help You Prevent and Manage COPD Exacerbations

COPD Exacerbation E-Book

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Topics: COPD, COPD Treatment, Disease Management, COPD Exacerbations

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