In Health Issues on Friday 31st May, 2019

How to stay safe this winter while living with COPD

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the most common cause of potentially preventable hospitalisations.

If you or a loved one live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you’ll know winter means more than just hot drinks and breaking out your woollies. The cooler conditions also mean you are likely to experience a flare-up of COPD symptoms.

These flare-ups can make it harder to do your day-to-day activities and even lead to hospitalisation if you don’t recognise the warning signs in time and seek treatment.

Lung Foundation Australia explains that a COPD flare-up is when your COPD symptoms worsen quickly over a few days. COPD flare-ups are usually caused by an infection (often due to a virus) or triggered by air pollutants or irritants.

What does a flare-up feel like?

While everyone experiences COPD differently, the common symptoms of a flare-up include:

  • Coughing more than usual
  • Finding it harder to breathe than usual
  • Any change in sputum (phlegm)
  • Being more tired and less active than usual.

You can manage flare-ups on your own with your usual medication if you detect the signs early. (However, as 90 percent of people with COPD are using their inhalers incorrectly, you may want to check your technique with your local doctor or pharmacist to ensure you get the most out of your medicine.)

There are also flare-up medicines that you can obtain for short-term use.

When to call for help

Sometimes, though, requesting medical help to manage a flare-up is unavoidable and you shouldn’t hesitate if your symptoms change significantly – you may need to go to the hospital for treatment.

It’s vital that you call an ambulance on 000 if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • You find it hard to talk
  • You find it hard to walk
  • You can’t sleep because of shortness of breath
  • You feel drowsy or confused
  • Your lips or fingernails have turned grey or blue
  • Your heartbeat or pulse is very fast or irregular.

Being prepared can prevent a hospital admission – and worse

COPD flare-ups not only hurt your quality of life, they also cause a rapid decline in lung function, so even a delay of 24 hours doubles your chances of requiring a hospital admission.

Even more worryingly, every flare-up does long-term damage to your lungs.

If you have COPD, Lung Foundation Australia advises that you complete an action plan with your health professional so you can recognise when your ‘baseline’ symptoms change. More importantly, having a plan means that both you and your loved ones know what to do if a flare-up occurs.

Charles Greenfield, a retired chef, father and grandfather who lives with COPD, is an advocate of having a COPD action plan.

“Having a flare-up completely takes over your life,” he says. “For me, in each flare-up I’ve had similar symptoms – constantly finding it hard to breathe as well as a temperature and high blood pressure.

“As soon as I feel the symptoms come on, I know what to do, whether it’s mild, moderate or severe. If it’s a mild episode, I make an appointment with my GP and for anything severe, I call my son who lives close and he calls an ambulance so I get to the hospital immediately.”

A COPD action plan doesn’t take long to create and it could save your life. To ensure the process is super-simple, Lung Foundation Australia has an easy-to-use template that you can complete with your doctor. Access the COPD action plan by clicking here.

Do you have COPD? What contingency plans do you have in place if you experience a flare-up?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

Come Prepared This Winter

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the most common cause of potentially preventable hospitalisations. This winter, Come Prepared and prevent COPD flare-ups.

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