People get used to living with COPD. It’s possible to live a long time with this condition. Most of the time, your usual ways of taking medicine and using oxygen, if your doctor has recommended it, will allow you to function pretty well.

Sometimes, however, people with COPD have what are called “exacerbations” or “flare-ups.” An exacerbation is when your COPD symptoms suddenly get worse and you need medical attention. You may need to be admitted to the hospital until your symptoms are under control. COPD has four different levels; COPD exacerbations in Grade 3 and Grade 4 can be very serious, even life-threatening.

Things that can cause a COPD exacerbation include:

  • Weather, including changes in air pressure (barometric changes)

  • Emotional upset

  • Allergies

  • High altitude

  • Sickness

If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, call your doctor. You may be having a COPD exacerbation.

  • It’s harder to breathe

  • You are coughing more

  • You are coughing up more mucus

  • The color of your mucus changes from clear to yellow or green

  • You notice swelling in your ankles or feet

  • You get confused and aren’t able to think clearly

  • You have tightness in your chest

  • You are very tired and resting doesn’t help

  • You experience rapid breathing and/or rapid heart rate

  • Your skin color looks ashy or blue-gray

  • You have a fever

  • You feel like you need more oxygen

  • You wake up in the morning with headaches or feeling dizzy