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COPD Exacerbation

In straight forward terms, an exacerbation symbolizes a decline of your COPD symptoms.

As reported by the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), your COPD exacerbation is explained as an event in the course of the disease signified by a change in the patient’s natural baseline, cough, shortness of breath and/or sputum production that is above normal, it’s onset is acute and may necessitate a change in drug therapy in a COPD patient.

Top Causes of COPD Exacerbation: Air Pollution and Infection

The top two causes of COPD exacerbation are air pollution and infection of the lungs or airways. In one-third of all exacerbations, however, the cause cannot be diagnosed.

Studies have found that smoking, improper use of an inhaler, lack of a pulmonary rehabilitation program, and poor adherence to a medication therapy program are all connected with increased frequent events of COPD exacerbation. Consequently, it is important that if you have been prescribed a drug and treatment regimen for your COPD, you adhere to the program and follow your doctor’s orders.

Signs and Symptoms of a COPD Exacerbation

The chief symptom of an acute COPD exacerbation is increased breathlessness which is frequently joined by the following:
• Wheezing
• Chest Tightness
• Fever
• Intensified cough and increased sputum production
• Change in the thickness and/or color of the sputum

Exacerbation Treatment

Generally, a hospital stay or a home-care nurse and/or respiratory therapist are necessary for managing your COPD exacerbation. As stated by GOLD, home care can be an effective alternative to a hospital stay in certain patients with an exacerbation. The methodical criteria used to determine who would most benefit from this concept, however, is uncertain and varies according to health care setting.

If your COPD exacerbation cannot be treated safely at home, you will be admitted to the hospital. Once there, your doctor will determine your care and may include the following:

• Oxygen Therapy
• Glucocorticosteroids (IV, oral and/or inhaled drugs that treat inflammation)
• Antibiotics (if diagnosis is underlying bacterial infection)
• Respiratory Stimulants
• Bronchodilators
• Ventilatory support: invasive (via a tube inserted into your mouth to ventilate your lungs) or non-invasive (via a mask).

Prevent a COPD Exacerbation

Preventative plans that may assist patients with COPD:

• Annual flu and pneumonia vaccine ( the flu shot can diminish acute illness and death by as much as 50% for COPD patients)
• Handwashing
• Adequate sleep, exercise/activity and a balanced diet
• Avoiding exposure cigarette smoke/secondhand smoke and environmental irritants such as air pollution (pay attention to air quality alerts) and extreme temperatures
• Avoid large crowds of people during cold and flu season

Final Thoughts

COPD exacerbations are debilitating, in and of themselves. Each exacerbation leaves you prone to future exacerbations. The toll they take on your body can lead to disability and even death. Taking better care of yourself, paying attention to your body, and following steps of prevention may ultimately help you to avoid a COPD exacerbation.

For further information about COPD exacerbation, talk with your primary care provider.