What is a COPD Action Plan?

John Bottrell Health Pro
  • Asthma Action Plans have worked wonders for the asthma community for years. Based on this success, the medical community decided a few years ago that they might benefit people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) too.  So what is a COPD Action Plan and how might it benefit you?  

    It is a plan that you work on with your doctor to help you decide what action to take when you observe the signs and symptoms of a COPD flare-up or exacerbation--to learn about what causes flare-ups read my post “COPD flare-up causes”.  Since the signs and symptoms of this disease vary from one person to the next, it’s important to tailor your plan to you.  

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    Like asthma action plans, COPD action plans are divided into three zones:

    1.  Green:  I am doing well today.  I am able to perform my normal daily routines without feeling more short of breath than normal.  I am not coughing or producing more secretions than normal.  The only actions I need to take are:

    • Take daily medicines exactly as prescribed by my doctor

    • Use oxygen as prescribed (if prescribed)

    • Continue regular exercise and diet plan

    • Continue to avoid my COPD triggers, especially cigarette smoke

    2.  Yellow: I am having a bad day today, or a flare-up.  I am more breathless than normal, especially when I exert myself.  I have less energy, and I feel more tired than normal.  I have increased phlegm, and it might be colorful.  I have been using my quick relief medication more frequently than normal, and it is not helping.  I might have swelling of my ankles and feet, and it’s worrying me.  I must take action right away, which includes:

    • Continue to take daily medications exactly as prescribed by my doctor

    • Use my quick relief medication every X hours  (the number of hours here is determined by you and your doctor when you are creating the plan)

    • Start the oral dose of systemic corticosteroids (your doctor might prescribe this medicine for you to have on hand for such an emergency)

    • Start the oral dose of antibiotics (again, your doctor might prescribe this so you have it on hand)

    • Use your oxygen all day and all night, as prescribed

    • Get plenty of rest

    • Play close attention to your diet, as certain foods, and eating too much, may make your breathing worse 

    • Do not drink soda or alcohol, as they may make your breathing worse

    • Use pursed lip breathing to help air get out of your lungs so you can breathe easier

    • Use proper coughing techniques to help you spit up phlegm

    • Avoid cigarette smoke and inhaled irritants at all costs

    • Stay away from anyone who might be sick

    • If symptoms don’t improve, call for help

    3.  Red:  I am having a really bad day today.  I am unable to move without getting really short of breath.  I am unable to sleep, or I have to sit up in a chair with the air conditioning on to breathe.  I have a fever or chills.  I am confused, drowsy, or my family or friends cannot arouse me.  I am having chest pains, or I am coughing constantly and producing lots of sputum.  Or, I feel I have phlegm in my chest and I can't get it out no matter what I do.  I must take immediate action:

    • Do not call a doctor, as this will take too long

    • Do not have someone drive you to the hospital, as this will take too long

    • Call 911, and allow professional health care providers to come to you and drive you by ambulance to the nearest emergency room.  


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    A couple things I think are important that should be noted here.

    1.  If you are in your red zone, it’s important that you call 911 as opposed to having someone drive you to the emergency room.  Why? Because emergency medical technicians (EMTs) will come to you, get you help right away, and get you to a hospital fast and safe.  If you are this sick, you are in no shape to be traveling by car.

    2.  It’s important that anyone who comes into contact with you be aware of your COPD action plan.  It should be kept in an easy-to-find location, such as on the refrigerator door. If anyone suspects you are having trouble, they can easily find your plan and help you follow it.  

    Bottom line:  Creating a COPD Action Plans is something you work on with your doctor, tailoring it specifically to your needs, and adjusting it as needed.  By creating such a plan, you and those who care for you should be able to recognize your signs and symptoms so you can take the appropriate action in order to live a normal life with this disease.

    Here's a sample COPD Action Plan from the American Lung Association. You may also be interested in reading my post “10 tips to living an active life with COPD.”

Published On: July 23, 2014