Staying in control of your condition involves being able to identify your symptoms, knowing
all you can about your condition and your medications and how to cope with flare-ups.
A flare up or an exacerbation is the worsening of your symptoms from its usual and outside
of what is normal for you or a flare up may take place for no apparent reason. It may also be
triggered by an infection.
Identifying and managing your flare up
The common symptoms of a flare up may include:
• Breathlessness becoming worse
• Persistent cough, including coughing up more phlegm or sputum
• A change in the colour and consistency of phlegm
You should have an action plan that you have agreed with your GP or health care
professional, which sets out what to do if you have a flare-up. It may include a medication
rescue pack of antibiotics and steroids for you to keep at home. Do remember to do your
breathing exercises and to stay calm. If your symptoms are severe call 999.
Positive steps to taking control of your COPD:
Stop smoking-this is the most effective way to prevent COPD getting worse as it can
prevent further damage. Research shows that you are four times more likely to successfully
quit smoking with support from stop smoking services and counsellors. Further help and
support is available from your GP or NHS Smokefree.
Know and take your medication– know your medications and why you are taking them
also identify your symptoms and therefore when you should start taking your rescue
medication-also make sure you take your regularly prescribed medication including your
Do your breathing exercises-managing your breathlessness is very important in
managing your condition. It is vital that you perform your breathing exercises to relieve and
control periods of shortness of breath as well as to improve your quality of life and boost
your fitness levels. There are various breathing techniques-speak to your health professional
about these if you have not been taught this.
Pulmonary rehabilitation-Ask your health professional about attending a pulmonary
rehabilitation program which offers sessions with physical exercises as well as advice on
your breathing condition too.
Rescue medication-This pack usually contains a course of antibiotics and steroids which
you can keep at home. You can then start taking them as soon as you start to experience
symptoms of a flare up. Ensure you inform your doctor or nurse as soon as possible that you
have used your rescue pack so it can be replaced. Speak to your GP about having a rescue
pack if you do not have one.
Attend annual reviews-everyone with COPD should have an annual review with their GP
or health care professional at least once a year.
Sleep well-ensure you get enough rest as this helps with your energy levels.
Healthy eating and keep a healthy weight-being overweight worsens your
breathlessness and makes it difficult for you to move around so it is vital to address this
through regular exercise and healthy eating.
On the other hand if you find that you are losing weight then having a high protein diet
alongside taking in enough calories is important to maintain a healthy weight. Further
support and advice from GP who may involve a dietitian in your action plan or as part of
your pulmonary rehabilitation.
Vaccinations– Ensure you are up to date with your vaccinations-including the yearly flu jab
and also the one off pneumococcal vaccination to help reduce the risk of these infections.
Emotional health-Talk about your feelings with your health professionals as your mental
health is also important and together you will work on further support regarding various
Irritants– Avoid things that can irritate your lungs such as smoke and air pollution.
Take these positive steps in order to manage your condition and maintain your health as
being in control of your long term condition makes you feel better about yourself and your
daily activities and seek further support as needed to empower your more on your health
British Lung Foundation
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise Incorporated.