During winter you are more likely to have a flare-up of your Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) symptoms. This is called an ‘exacerbation’. Every exacerbation does long-term damage to your health and can increase your risk of death – even more than a heart attack1. It’s important to be prepared so you can stay well and out of hospital this winter.
What is an exacerbation?
A COPD exacerbation is characterised by worsening of your symptoms including breathlessness, coughing and/or secretions from the lungs, such as mucus. It usually happens fairly quickly over a few days. Exacerbations can be common in people living with COPD and they may occur several times a year. They can be unpleasant because they reduce your enjoyment of life and restrict what you are able to do. If you have repeated exacerbations you may need to go to hospital. They can also cause permanent damage to your lungs. By preventing exacerbations you can help to prevent your COPD symptoms getting worse.
Dealing with an exacerbation
If your symptoms worsen quickly over a few days, see your doctor for treatment as soon as possible. If you have already prepared a COPD Action Plan with your doctor, this may tell you exactly what to do if you have an exacerbation.
If you have an exacerbation your doctor may prescribe steroid medicines and/or antibiotics. By getting treatment early you can help to reduce the severity of your exacerbation which may prevent the need to go to hospital.
Talk to your doctor if you are not sure what to do when you have an exacerbation.
Reduce your risk of an exacerbation by completing our Have the CHAT checklist:
- Get your vaccinations (influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia)
- Keep active eg. with pulmonary rehabilitation
- Check how to use your inhaler device with your General Practitioner (GP) or pharmacist
- Ask your GP for a COPD Action Plan
- Know the signs of an exacerbation:
Coughing more than usual
Harder to breath than usual
Any change in sputum (phlegm)
Tired more than usual (less active).
If you have these symptoms Have the CHAT with your doctor.
Other tips include:
- Take your medicine regularly as instructed by your doctor
- Try to stay away from people who have colds, flu or respiratory infections
- Avoid things that can make your symptoms worse such as fumes, dust or cold or very humid air.
For more information, visit lungfoundation.com.au/ or contact our freecall Information and Support Line.
1 Halpin D. Mortality in COPD: Inevitable or Preventable? Insights from the Cardiovascular Arena. COPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 2008. 5:3, 187–200.