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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.


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

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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?

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