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10 Warning Signs of COPD Getting Worse

signs of copd getting worseA COPD exacerbation is defined as a period of time when your usual COPD symptoms worsen. For some people, a COPD exacerbation can become so serious that hospitalization is necessary. The most common cause of COPD exacerbations are viral and bacterial infections and air pollution.

Having a flare-up of your COPD symptoms can be downright scary. That’s why, in 5 Ways to Prevent COPD Exacerbation we shared some important tips on how to nip exacerbations in the bud before they occur. How do you know if you’re having an exacerbation? Thankfully, there are 10 warning signs and symptoms that should alert you to seek emergency care or contact your physician as soon as possible.

Early Recognition of Worsening Symptoms

According to the Cleveland Clinic, getting help for an exacerbation as soon as you notice symptoms is paramount to a speedy recovery. Waiting too long could lead to serious complications; possibly even death. Even if you don’t feel sick or you don’t think your symptoms are that bad, ignoring them could be life-threatening.

When to Seek Emergency Care

Sometimes, a COPD exacerbation requires immediate emergency treatment. Go to the closest emergency room or call 911 if you experience:

When to Seek Non-Emergent Care

Many times, a COPD exacerbation can be effectively managed at home, under the care of your physician. Report any of the following warning signs to your physician within 24 hours:

    1. Worsening shortness of breath
      Shortness of breath that has worsened or occurs more frequently than usual is one of the hallmark symptoms of COPD exacerbation. Contact your physician if:

      • You’re unable to walk as far as you normally do
      • You’re breathlessness causes you to sit upright or prop yourself up on pillows while sleeping
      • The work of breathing tires you out
      • You need to use your rescue inhaler or do breathing treatments more often
      • Shortness of breath awakens you from sleep more than once during the night
    2. Changes in mucus production
      Many people with COPD experience an increase in mucus production as part of their everyday COPD symptoms. When mucus production changes, however, it could mean you’re facing a COPD exacerbation. The following changes in mucus production warrant a phone call to your physician:

      • Changes in the amount, color or consistency (thickness)
      • The presence of odor or blood
    3. Worsening cough
    4. Increased wheezing (high-pitched whistling sound)
    5. Frequent morning headaches or dizziness
    6. Fever, especially if it’s accompanied by cold or flu-like symptoms
    7. Extreme fatigue or weakness that doesn’t go away after one day
    8. Unplanned weight loss or weight gain of 2 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week
    9. Changes in your mental state (restlessness, confusion, forgetfulness, irritability, slurred speech)
    10. New or worsening swelling in your lower extremities that doesn’t go away after resting for one night with your legs and feet elevated

For more information about COPD and prevention of COPD exacerbation, read:


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


Cleveland Clinic.When to Call the Doctor About Your COPD Symptoms.Reviewed 12/31/2011.


Image: Pixabay, Red Cross Doctor Nurse Cartoon Free Help First

20 thoughts on “10 Warning Signs of COPD Getting Worse”

  1. Avatar sarah says:

    After six weeks on antibiotics and presidone I still feel tired and weak.I get like pains in my chest.is this from copd

  2. Avatar david brians says:

    my copd gets worse every month, constant cough now and shorter distance that I can go, I had a friend with the same symptoms I watched him die in hospital. is there just nothing that can be done, my doctor says ime on everything there is, its a horrible way to go.

  3. Avatar Anita Conway says:

    What do you do if you don't have insurance and the hospital don't do an X-ray. To see how bad you are

    1. Web Admin Web Admin says:

      Please go speak with your doctor if you feel an x-ray is needed.

    2. Avatar Mary says:

      I am in the same situation. This is feeling scary. Nothing is helping. Advair, Albuteral, my nebulizer…nothing helps even for a minute and I can't even put on my socks. I can't afford to go to the doctor.

      this runs in my family and many of my family members died of emphasyma. I'm having anxiety over it which makes me tense up and makes it worse. Scarey…like I'm drowning.

  4. Avatar Judy May Centers says:

    I get winded/breathless and lose my voice when talking ..I have asthmatic copd..what is happening?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Judy, Whenever you feel that your shortness of breath is worsening and it's not being relived by your usual medial treatment, you should contact your doctor immediately so that they can evaluate your symptoms. If you feel like you cannot breathe, please go to the closest emergency room or call 911 immediately.

  5. Avatar Mary says:

    Yes…I should go see a doctor….now! I have a 5000 dollar deductable and it's December which means i'll have to pay another $5000 in january.

    I'm almost out of debt. I will never be able to work and pay for the doctor visit.

  6. Avatar Kimberly Walker says:

    I was just diagnosed with COPD last night, well at 2a this morning. My chest hurts beyond comparison, but I'm sure a great deal of that is pointed at the difficulty at lowering my anxiety from the fear of dying. Correction, I don't fear death. I fear doing so in total pain and discomfort. I had, had a flare up. First breathing treatment did absolutely nothing for me, so they hit me with a second breathing treatment not even an hour later, steroids, and the chest xray. They said I also have a low grade fever. I do hate to admit, I am a smoker, and I do plan to quit, but I will not be doing it cold turkey as I fear the stress on my body by doing so. Can anyone please explain this to me? I really have very little knowledge or understanding of what I have been diagnosed with and the seriousness of it. All I know is the pain I feel right now is probably the worst pain I've ever felt, but I'm sure if it was severe they would have admitted me. Thank you.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Kimberly, We're sorry to hear you're not feeling well. A COPD diagnosis can be overwhelming at first, but we do have some resources to help you educate yourself. Please visit: https://www.inogen.com/blog/how-is-copd-diagnosed/

  7. Avatar Richard says:

    been having breathing issues and steadily getting worse, been having to use my emergency inhalers numerous times a day now, chest pains and it feels like my chest is on fire at time. dizziness and always tired. sometimes it feels like im breathing out the albuterol. I am also alpha 1 antitrypsin deficient which makes things worse.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Richard, It may be time for you to re-evaluate your treatment plan with your primary care doctor. Please ask your doctor if oxygen therapy is right for you. For more information on AAT and oxygen therapy, please visit: https://www.inogen.com/blog/understanding-alpha-1/ and https://www.inogen.com/resources/oxygen-therapy-treatment/what-is-oxygen-therapy/

  8. Avatar Tina Baldwin says:

    I was first diagnosed with End stage COPD five years ago. I let it get to far before talking to the doctor about it. Anyway, my recent visit to my lung doctor came with some disturbing news. I'm at 29% lung function and he informed me, usually people with 35% can't even get themselves to the bathroom. Then he told me I didn't have much time left. Has any one experienced what he has spoken of or seen a family member go through this. Yes, I'm not proud of it but I still smoke. If I didn't I think I would curl up and die. My stress reliever. Can a doctor state the above with any certainty at all?

  9. Avatar Frances Carollo says:

    Tina, my heart goes out to you. At this moment, my Husband of 52 yrs in slowley dying in nursing home. He was diagnosed with ENDSTAGE COPD 12 yrs. ago. had a tumor taken out of his throat. the day he left hospital, he lit up.!! has cut down, as he would say, but damage is done. kidney probems; Aneruism, Diabetes, can't walk to bathroom without getting out of breath.This is an on going illness that there is no cure for. if i could say anything to someone, it would be NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES, STOP SMOKING. THIS DOES NOT GO AWAY . It take you life, your health, living like a normal person. everything. For me and my sons, it's HELL watching their father slowley die knowing there is NOTHING we CAN DO. my husband in down to 111 lbs. from 168. the sadest thing i've ever had to endure. Take care of yourself, NOW.

  10. Avatar Steph says:

    My heart goes out to all of u. My mom who is 85 has been getting worse every day. I feel helpless I lost my husband 14 yrs ago from.a lung disease. It's very hard watching this again. My mom is my best friend and losing her will put me in a horrible depression

  11. Avatar Lisa says:

    Steph – I`m in a similar situation. My mom is 90 and was diagnosed with COPD in 1/2018. The worst part is, she has had this disease since August 2012, and not one Dr. ever told her she had it. After she was diagnosed, I was able to look back on all her routine chest Xrays over the years and discovered this. That's 6 years wasted with no treatment. Despite all of that, my mom has been doing pretty good. She has stayed at 97% oxygen on room air. The last month, things have gone downhill a bit. When walking, her oxygen levels now drop to 92/93%. Also when she talks, she has a hard time finishing sentences. It's so hard watching someone with this horrible disease. Make sure your mom uses her incentive spirometer, as that can really help improve lung function.

  12. Avatar Carloyn says:

    My husband has had COPD for over 10 years. He's on oxygen24/7 and uses INOGEN during the day and the big oxygen tank for night. The pulmonary Dr. said he couldn't do anything more but he is sending him for Pulmonary therapy to be evaluated for the treatments. He feels they won't be able to do anything because his lungs are gone. What do we expect from now on in?

  13. Avatar Adrienne. says:

    Hi it is very horrible watching someone with copd scared to death cuz they ca t breath. My best friend slash mom has copd. But she got pneumonia n it sent her into a spell n had to b put in ICU that nite she went Into distress n had to b put on a ventilator took it out. Put it bk. She is off now n doin better but had to learn how to walk again. She is still in rehab went to hospital 9/11/2019. But what are symptoms of copd. Cuz I have started out with some kinda flu like symptoms. but I have a phelm that jus wont go away.. could that mean copd for me

  14. Avatar Jenny says:

    Please quit smoking as soon as possible. My mother only has a actual lung function of 10% without oxygen this is heart breaking to watch this disease progress, we are in the finale stage…she in at her 4th admission in 2 weeks she will next go to nursing home rehabilitation for two weeks then we will reevaluate. She’s only 68. Her dr today told me her lungs are comparable to Swiss cheese. I knew she was bad but hearing this was devastating you do not want to die from this disease smoking she just got out of the nursing home a month ago and her downfall has been unbelievable.she came home and started smoking. She is in total denial that it’s the COPD and there’s something else that must be wrong and has continued to smoke. If anyone that’s a smoker reads this I hope I can reach even just one person. She only weighs 96lbs because her body burns any nutrition she receives because her accessory muscles have to work so hard. This has killed me to watch my mother die from COPD-so Please quit smoking!!! Live the best quality of life you can or you will most definitely suffer if you continue to smoke…

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Thank you for your wonderful words of advice Jenny!

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