Avoiding COPD flare ups

By: Sally Whitten
Administrative Director for Respiratory care
Masters of Health Science, RRT

Andrea Lai
Director - Ambulatory Pharmacy
PharmD
Martine Eon
BS, RRT, NPS, RPSGT, AE-C
Clinical Specialist

COPD medicines and avoiding flare-ups

COPD medicines can help you feel better and avoid flare ups. There are many different types of breathing medicines. Some are taken every day to prevent shortness of breath and flare-ups. These medicines are called controller or long-acting medicines and are taken once or twice a day. Quick relief medicines sometimes called rescue medicines are taken to open up your airways and make breathing easier. These medicines start to work in a few minutes and last a few hours. One of the most important things to know about your medicines is how and when to take them. Ask your doctor, nurse or respiratory therapist to show you.

Sometimes you can do everything right and still have a flare-up. A flare-up is a change in your everyday symptoms. Your doctor may give you a COPD action plan to help you recognize the early signs of a flare-up and what you should do when a flare-up occurs. The plan has green, yellow and red zones.

  • Green zone is when you are having a good day and can do all the things you usually do.
  • Yellow zone describes a not so good day such as having more mucus or being more short of breath.
  • Red zone describes a very bad day and when to call 911 for help.

The sooner you realize these changes and call your doctor or nurse, the sooner they can treat your flare-up. If you wait, the flare-up may last longer and require a visit to the emergency room or overnight stay in the hospital. A severe flare-up can cause permanent damage to your lungs.

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