It’s time to talk about that 500-pound gorilla in the room that’s looking to sit on your chest. That’s right – the COPD Exacerbation. Although many patients find it difficult to talk about the scary flair-up, the fact remains that it is something you should know what causes it, what are the symptoms that you might experience and how is it treated.
What Causes a COPD Flair-Up?
Let’s get technical for a minute. The clinical term for a flair-up of COPD is an Acute exacerbation of COPD. It can also be referred to as an acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis (AECB), which is a worsening of symptoms related to COPD (such as the quantity of phlegm or shortness of breath) and can last for several days once treatment has begun.
An exacerbation can happen to people with asthma, IPF, and emphysema as well. Basically, when you have COPD, your lungs are incredibly sensitive to the contaminants that you breathe in daily. It makes sense then, that the most common cause of an exacerbation is breathing in materials that can irritate or stimulate your lungs negatively.
However, there are several specific things that can cause the exacerbation such as:
- Smoking. Whether it’s a cigarette, vapor pen or other products, smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke is a leading cause of an exacerbation.
- Improper use of medication. Most COPD patients are prescribed two types of inhaling medication, a maintenance inhaler (which is taken daily to maintain your lung health) and rescue inhalers (which is taken during COPD Exacerbations or other flair-ups). However, you’d be surprised how many patients simply don’t take the medication correctly or more importantly, don’t have the right supplies to assist in this process. Oral medication can also be taken incorrectly, so it’s important to have a COPD coach that can help teach you how to correctly take all medications.
- Lack of participation in pulmonary rehab programs. Pulmonary rehab is intended to work out your lungs to keep them strong. When our lungs are weak, they are susceptible to triggering an exacerbation.
- Inhalation of poor air quality. Irritants such as pollen, spores, molds or simple dust can also trigger an exacerbation. Therefore, staying on top of indoor air quality is so important for COPD patients.
What are the Symptoms of COPD Exacerbation?
The primary symptom of an acute exacerbation of COPD has increased breathlessness which is often accompanied by the following:
- Increases in coughing
- A change in the thickness, color and amount of mucus or sputum production
- Chest tightness or wheezing
Any time you experience any of these symptoms, it’s vital to contact your primary care physician as soon as possible. If the symptoms are extreme, a visit to the emergency room is recommended.
What are Treatments for COPD Exacerbations?
It’s understood that hospitalization is the common treatment of COPD exacerbations. However, home-care nursing can also be an effective alternative to hospital stays. In fact, the GOLD Standard for COPD care states nurse-administered home care can be a practical – and effective – alternative to hospital care in certain patients with COPD exacerbation. The exact criteria used to determine who would benefit most from this approach, however, is uncertain and varies according to the healthcare setting.
If your COPD exacerbation cannot be managed safely at home, you will be admitted to the hospital. There are a few different items that doctors will prescribe to manage and reduce the COPD exacerbation including:
- Oral, IV or inhaled medication that will treat inflammation within the lungs
- Oxygen therapy
- Ventilatory support
- Respiratory stimulants
The best way to reduce the potential for exacerbations is reducing exposure to the causes, recognizing the symptoms early and getting treatment as soon as possible. Make sure to follow COPDHealthTips.com, as we will be adding fresh content and practical tips for COPD patients and their caregivers, so they can reduce exposure to trigger items, recognize the symptoms earlier and create an action plan for treatment.