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Reviewed 12/13/2020

How to spot COPD flare-ups

Many COPD flare-ups are due to an infection. They can put you at risk of hospitalization.

Learn how to spot them early on.

COPD flare-ups: How to spot trouble

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), symptom flare-ups could put you in the hospital. However, knowing the warning signs of a flare-up can help you take action to protect your health.

Learn how to spot a flare-up.

Head symptoms:

  • Fever.
  • Confusion.

Throat symptoms:

  • Increased mucus.
  • Mucus that is yellow, green, tan or bloody.

Chest symptoms:

  • Wheezing or increased wheezing.
  • Increased coughing.
  • Increased shortness of breath.
  • Shallow or rapid breathing that's worse than usual.

Feet/ankle symptoms:

  • Swelling in your feet or ankles.

Avoiding flare-ups:

  • Don't smoke. And avoid other triggers, like pollution and dust or fumes at work.
  • See your doctor and dentist regularly, even when you feel fine.
  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Ask a healthcare provider about pneumonia and pertussis shots.
  • Avoid crowds during cold and flu season to lower your risk of infection.
  • Drink plenty of water to help keep mucus thin and prevent it from building up in your lungs.
  • Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitizer to keep germs away.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose to prevent infection.
  • Get plenty of sleep, because you're more likely to get sick when you're tired.

Handling a flare-up:

As soon as you experience signs of a COPD flare-up, contact a healthcare provider. He or she may be able to prescribe medications to prevent hospitalization.

Sources: American Lung Association; American Thoracic Society; COPD Foundation

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.