This winter, come prepared. Prevent COPD flare-ups.
Regular coughing fits or struggling to walk to the letterbox without feeling breathless can be common symptoms for someone living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). There can be good days, where things are a little easier, and there are the bad days, where you need to take frequent breaks and it’s impossible to get anything done. So how do you prevent having an exacerbation or flare-up in your symptoms?
For starters, during the winter months, people living with COPD should be especially cautious. There are lots of people around who are unwell with a cold or flu and catching these viruses can have significant consequences and puts you at risk of a flare-up.
Preventing a flare-up is important because an untreated flare-up can mean hospitalisation, and each flare-up does further damage to the lungs. Knowing what the early signs of a flare-up is also key because the sooner you get treatment, the quicker and better your recovery is likely to be.
Charles Greenfield, retired chef, father and grandfather who lives with COPD, was diagnosed after three bouts of pneumonia. Recently, Charles experienced a more severe flare-up of his COPD which was quite frightening.
“It was by far the worst attack I’ve had, and the most rapid onset – it came on within two hours in fact. It was scary. I had difficulty breathing, I was shaking and shivering,” Charles said.
“I had a friend staying with me who drove me to the emergency department where I was stabilised and given two different types of antibiotics. Luckily my condition improved over the next six days in hospital and I was able to go home,” he said.
“Having a flare-up completely takes over your life. Once I was home, my recovery was slow at first but I was determined to get out there and start doing things again. After two weeks I was able to start light exercise, including tai chi and walking.
“Usually there isn’t anything I can’t do myself, from light jobs around the house to chasing my grandson, even if it’s a bit slower, I can still get it done. It’s now been five weeks and I’m almost back to normal.”
Fortunately, Charles has a strategy in place which involves his two sons who live nearby.
“For me, in each flare-up I’ve had similar symptoms – constantly finding it hard to breathe as well as a temperature and high blood pressure,” Charles said.
“As soon as I feel the symptoms come on I know what to do whether it’s mild, moderate or severe. If it’s a mild episode, I make an appointment with my GP and for anything severe I call my son who lives close and he calls an ambulance so I get to the hospital immediately.”
A COPD Action Plan helps people with COPD to recognise when their ‘baseline’ symptoms change and what to do – whether it is a change in their medications, booking a GP appointment or going straight to hospital. People are encouraged to develop their Action Plan with their GP and ensure it is reviewed every six months. To access the Action Plan, click here.
Charles shared his top five tips to get on top of day-to-day activities after a flare-up:
- “Make sure you have lots of rest. Don’t put pressure on yourself or try to get too many things done.
- Get back into gentle exercise and start getting out and going for walks as soon you feel able to. Any exercise is good – it doesn’t have to be all at once – it can be broken up into smaller, more achievable blocks.
- Do your breathing exercises. They help to slow your body down, expand your lungs and are calm you down which is good for your overall well-being.
- Be prepared and protect yourself. Get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.
- Check in with your support network. I’m fortunate to have my two sons nearby who I check in with each day. They help me to get through the good and the bad days.”