5 Signs You Need to Go to the ER for Your COPD

by John Bottrell Health Professional

Sometimes people with breathing disorders, particularly those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), wait too long to seek help. This only makes matters worse, and makes treatment harder. Here are five signs you need to call for help right away--which might entail calling your physician, having someone drive you to the nearest emergency room, or calling 911.

It’s indicated by your COPD Action Plan

This is a plan you work on with your doctor to help you decide what action to take when you observe COPD signs and symptoms. By following this plan, you should know exactly what to do and when. If you’re in the red zone according to your COPD Action Plan, then it’s time to go to the hospital.

You find yourself second guessing

Your gut feeling says you should seek help, but just as you’re about to grab the phone you start to wonder, “Am I sick enough?” The longer you delay, the worse your symptoms may become. As a general rule of thumb, even if you remotely think you need help, you should seek it.

Downplaying flare-up severity

Similar to second guessing, it’s common for people with lung diseases to make their increased shortness of breath appear less important than it is. This is easy to do, especially since some flare-ups progress gradually over time, making breathing worse so slowly that it’s hard to recognize a change. Chances are it’s not all in your head. If you find yourself downplaying, it’s time to seek help.

Increased need for rescue medicine

If you have been using your rescue medicine (your albuterol inhaler or nebulizer) more often than you usually do, this is a classic sign your COPD is getting worse and that you should seek help. Being proactive before your symptoms worsen is important for maintaining COPD control.

Worsening cough or increased or colorful sputum

If you are coughing more than normal and coughing up sputum that is brown, green or red, this may be a sign that you have a lung infection, such as pneumonia. Since pneumonia is a common cause of COPD flare-ups, it’s best you seek help right away because untreated pneumonia can be life threatening.

Be proactive

It is best to seek help during the early stages of an exacerbation, rather than wait until you are gasping for air. Most of the time your body will display signs and symptoms that a flare-up is coming on. If you can recognize these early on and seek help right away, it will be easier for your physician to keep you feeling good so you can live a normal life with this disease.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).