People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often have symptoms that suddenly get worse. This may included increased shortess of breath, chest tightness, more coughing, change in your sputum, and a fever. It is important to call your doctor if you have any of these signs or symptoms.
Sometimes the signs and symptoms are caused by a lung infection, such as pneumonia. If pneumonia is suspected, an antibiotic may be prescribed to fight off the infection.
Your doctor may also recommend additional medications to help with your breathing, such as corticosteroids or bronchodilators.
Your doctor may recommend that you be admitted to the hospital if symptoms are particularly severe and home treatment does not appear to provide sufficient relief.
Living with COPD
- Quit smoking and avoid smoke exposure. If you smoke, quitting is the most important thing you can do to help your lungs. It is also important to try to stay away from people who are smoking or places where there is smoking.
- Take your medications as prescribed. Refill your medications before they run out.
- Keep the air in your home clean. Here are some things that may help you in your home. Keep smoke, fumes, and strong smells out of your home. Stay away from your home if it is painted or sprayed for insects. Cook near an open door or window. If you heat with wood or kerosene, keep a door or window open.Keep your windows closed and stay at home when there is a lot of pollution or dust outside.
- See your doctor regularly, even if you are feeling fine. Make sure you bring a list of medication to your doctor visit.
- Ask your doctor or nurse about getting a flu shot and pneumonia vaccination.
- Keep your body strong by learning breathing exercises and walking and exercising regularly.
- Eat healthy foods. Ask your family to help you buy and fix healthy foods. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Eat protein food like meat, fish, eggs, milk, and soy.
If your doctor has told you that you have severe COPD, there are some things that you can do to get the most out of each breath. Make your life as easy as possible at home by:
- Asking your friends and family for help.
- Doing things slowly.
- Doing things sitting down.
- Putting things you need in one place that is easy to reach.
- Finding very simple ways to cook, clean, and do other chores. Some people use a small table or cart with wheels to move things around. Using a pole or tongs with long handles can help you reach things.
- Keeping your clothes loose.
- Wearing clothes and shoes that are easy to put on and take off.
- Asking for help moving your things around in your house so that you will not need to climb stairs as often.
- Picking a place to sit that you can enjoy and visit with others.
When COPD Symptoms Get Worse
If you are finding that it is becoming more difficult to catch your breath, your coughing has gotten worse, you are coughing up more mucus, or you have signs of infection (such as a fever and feeling poorly), you need to call your doctor right away. Your doctor may do a spirometry test, blood work, and a chest X-ray. Your doctor may also:
- Order antibiotics, which are medicines that help fight off infection
- Change the type and dosage of the bronchodilator and glucocorticosteroid medicines you have been taking
- Order oxygen or increase the amount of oxygen you are currently using
It is helpful to have certain information on hand in case you need to go to the hospital or doctor right away. You should plan now to make sure you have:
- The phone numbers for the doctor, hospital, and people who can take you to the hospital or doctor
- Directions to the hospital and doctor's office
- A list of the medicines you are taking
When to get emergency help
- You should get emergency help if:
- You find that is hard to talk or walk.
- Your heart is beating very fast or irregularly.
- Your lips or fingernails are gray or blue.
- Your breathing is fast and hard, even when you are using your medicines.
Emotional Issues and Support
Living with COPD may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk about how you feel with your health care team. Talking to a professional counselor also might help. If you're very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.
Joining a patient support group may help you adjust to living with COPD. You can see how other people who have the same symptoms have coped with them. Talk with your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.
Support from family and friends also can help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.
Reference: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute