Most pulmonologists educate their patients on the self-identification of flare-ups (exacerbation) because early identification reduces hospitalization and complications (including death).

During asthma/COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) exacerbation, the airway and lung functions change quickly and dramatically. Exacerbations mostly occur due to infection, exposure to extreme weather conditions, pollution, or inadequate medication.

Patients may suddenly experience more mucus clogging the bronchial tubes or the muscles around airways may constrict significantly, cutting off the normal free air supply, leading to suffocation, choking, and congestion.

Symptoms of Asthma/COPD Flare-up 

1) Breathlessness or shortness of breath: You will either feel like you can’t breathe deeply or you will be gasping for air, even while doing routine work.

2) Increase in coughing attacks: Coughing will be continuous, and will disturb your work and sleep.

3) Wheezing (hearing a wheeze or whistling noise when you breathe means that air is being forced through a narrower passageway) due to congestion, which is a warning sign of an increasing problem.

4) Increase in mucus: You may begin to cough up more mucus, and it may be of a different color (yellow/black/dirty green) than usual.

5) Feeling fatigued or facing sleep problems: Sleep disturbances or exhaustion can indicate less oxygen is getting to your lungs and through your body, causing daytime fatigue. You may become unconscious due to extreme fatigue. This is another warning sign of an increasing problem.

6) Cognitive impairment: You may experience confusion, slowing down thought processing, depression, or memory lapses as the brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen. 

7) Fever with chills: If you have a fever with chills, it is a warning sign of an increasing problem. Old-age persons and diabetics may not experience this symptom.

All of the above symptoms can appear in any order.

What To Do In Case Of a COPD Flare-up

1) Contact your treating doctor immediately.

2) Increase your regular inhaler/nebulizer intake, as per your need.

3) Increase your oxygen intake (if you are prescribed ambulatory oxygen).

4) Do not stop your regular medications (for hypertension, cardiac problems, diabetes, etc.).

Ways to Minimize Asthma/COPD Flare-ups

1) Practise pranayama (breathing exercises)/yoga regularly.

2) Avoiding being in areas with high air pollution. Keep a check on AQI (Air Quality Index) and PM (Particulate Matter) levels. Use face masks while outside and respirators or air purifiers if required.

3) Stop Smoking (either active and passive) 

Asthma/COPD flare-ups can occur due to many reasons and it is best to start treatment early to avoid any further complications.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.