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Reviewed 11/24/2021

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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