Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) describes progressive lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma. The disease is characterized, and usually initially diagnosed, by an increased difficulty in breathing. People with COPD may have chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or even both. Each aspect of the condition can feel different, which is why those with the condition should be under a doctor’s care, such as one from the Lung Center of Nevada, a division of Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

Once COPD has been diagnosed and under the care of a medical team, patients need to properly manage their daily lives. An important part of that self care comes from smart living, as well as situational awareness  to deal with challenges. The best way to gain situational awareness, and be best prepped for life with COPD is by putting a checklist-based action plan into place.

Getting a COPD Action Plan Checklist in Place

The following checklists are important to know and keep in mind to help patients with COPD safely manage their symptoms.

  • Severe shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Not able to do any activity because of difficulty breathing
  • Not able to sleep because of difficulty breathing
  • Fever or shaking chills
  • Feeling confused or very drowsy
  • Chest pains
  • Coughing up blood

If one or more of these symptoms arise, make sure to call 911 and follow their instructions.

Have the Following Ready Before Check Ups

  1. Gather all of your medicines, or a list of them, to bring with you
  2. Include herbal and over-the-counter treatments
  3. Review use of maintenance and rescue medicines
  4. If using your rescue inhaler more frequently, your COPD may not be under control so make a note and tell your doctor
  5. Prepare a list of specific questions to bring to your next appointment to help start the conversation

During Your Doctor Visit Do the Following

  • Share any changes in breathing patterns
  • If you are on oxygen, make sure you are using it properly
  • Discuss any changes in your activity and energy levels
  • Say if you have had trouble sleeping
  • Discuss any changes in your appetite
  • Ask for help quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is tough, but it’s important not to give up trying

Additional Questions to Ask Healthcare Providers

  • Is a pulmonary rehab program appropriate for you?
  • When should you get a flu shot and pneumonia shot?
  • What factors can make your COPD worse and how can you deal with them?

When COPD Symptoms Get Worse

  • Know the signs of a flare-up
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) flare-ups are episodes when you may develop new symptoms or feel your usual symptoms get worse
  • These flare-ups — often due to a respiratory infection, an illness (like a cold), or exposure to pollutants — can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. They may even require hospitalization

How to Spot Mild or Severe Flare-up of COPD Symptoms

Mild flare-up symptoms include:

  • Increased shortness of breath or coughing
  • More wheezing than usual
  • More phlegm or mucus than usual when you cough
  • Change in the color of your mucus
  • Difficulty sleeping

Severe flare-up symptoms include:

  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Blue lips or fingers
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Extreme shortness of breath or coughing
  • Swelling of the ankles or legs
  • Difficulty speaking

If Severe Flare-up of COPD Symptoms Occurs

  • Get in touch with a healthcare provider
  • Don’t panic. Keeping calm may help you keep your symptoms from getting worse
  • Take any medicines you have been prescribed for flare-ups, such as quick-relief or rescue inhalers
  • Use oxygen if your healthcare provider has prescribed it
  • If your symptoms do not get better, or if they keep getting worse, call your healthcare provider, go to the hospital, or call 911

As your COPD progresses, you may have more flare-ups. Each new flare-up can increase your risk of having another one in the future. You can help reduce your risk of COPD flare-ups with lifestyle changes and maintenance treatments (daily medicines that help you manage your breathing).

Ways to Stay on Top of COPD

Avoid COPD triggers:

  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain good air quality in your home
  • Avoid exposure to pollutants and allergens, such as smoke
  • Avoid colds and the flu
  • Stay away from people with colds and the flu
  • Wash or sanitize your hands as often as possible
  • Make sure you get all recommended vaccinations
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to be more physically active, such as taking walks
  • Take frequent rest breaks throughout the day
  • Eat a diet rich in lean protein, fish, fruits, and vegetables
  • Do not drink liquids with meals — but be sure to stay hydrated at other times

Work Smarter with your Healthcare Provider:

  • Talk with your healthcare provider
  • Be sure you are treating any other health conditions appropriately
  • Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to go over your medicines and how they’re used
  • Ask your healthcare provider about maintenance medicine
  • Find maintenance treatments that can reduce your risk of COPD flare-ups

Lung Center of Nevada Can Help You Manage COPD

Lung Center of Nevada is a team of board-certified pulmonologists, respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, and administrative support staff dedicated to providing high-quality care to patients with lung disease and sleep disorders. The division adds to Comprehensive Cancer’s multidisciplinary approach by offering more services to patients, especially those with lung and bronchus cancer, which remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in Nevada. To schedule an appointment with the team at Lung Center of Nevada, please call 702-737-5864.