Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Exacerbation

Symptoms & Treatment

Dr. Phil Mitchell
Medically reviewed by Dr. Phil MitchellMarch 30th, 2024
DispatchHealth providers in the filed

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe because of permanent damage to the airways and lung tissue. “Emphysema” and “Chronic Bronchitis” are two common types of COPD. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough with mucus. Smoking is the main cause of this condition.

Sometimes, people with COPD can have a temporary worsening of symptoms called a COPD exacerbation. This often happens due to a lung infection (like a chest cold) or exposure to triggers in the air such as pollution, dust, or fumes.

COPD is a long-term issue, but following a healthcare provider’s advice can help patients feel better.

Common Treatments for COPD Exacerbation

If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD exacerbation, your healthcare provider may recommend the following treatments. Each case is different, so it’s important to follow your provider’s specific instructions carefully.

  • Inhalers or nebulizers (like albuterol and/or ipratropium) can help open the airways for easier breathing. Your provider may recommend using these treatments every 2-4 hours, or more frequently if needed.
  • Steroids like prednisone can be used to reduce lung inflammation. Steroids may be prescribed in the form of a pill or an inhaler.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed to help treat an underlying infection that is contributing to COPD exacerbation.

Safety Recommendations with COPD Exacerbation

  • If you’ve been prescribed steroids and you have diabetes, closely monitor your blood sugar, as steroids can increase sugar levels.
  • If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics, always finish the medication even if you are feeling better. This is essential to make sure the infection clears up completely and doesn’t come back.
  • Avoiding smoking and other lung irritants like pollution, dust or fumes.
  • Follow up with your primary healthcare provider within 1-3 days of treatment to make sure your breathing is improving as expected. If you can’t see your primary provider, DispatchHealth may recommend you schedule a follow-up appointment within us.

Healthy Habits for the Heart and Lungs

  • Keep moving with daily activities like walking, gradually increasing your activity level as you are able.
  • Stay up to date on vaccinations against infections that can worsen COPD like the flu, COVID-19, pneumonia and RSV.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Get seen by a healthcare professional right away if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms with COPD exacerbation.

  • Chest pain, pressure, or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath, especially when walking or lying flat
  • Oxygen levels dropping below 90%
  • Feeling dizzy or weak
  • Fainting or feeling like you might faint
  • Mental confusion

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