For those of us with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), avoiding exacerbations — or flare-ups — is a top priority. The question is, what tools are available to help us do that? Some of them are cleansing our nasal passages, getting vaccinations, and noticing changes in the amount and color of mucous secretions. All of these require vigilance by the patient.

Our bodies help with that, as they usually offer us subtle hints that we’re starting to battle an illness. I used to say I couldn’t tell if I was getting sick or just feeling tired. Now, the tool that helps me decide is the COPD action plan. Tracking how my body feels daily has helped me recognize when I’m getting sick.

The COPD Foundation and the American Lung Association have great, and free, action plans that you can download and print at home. I use the COPD Foundation’s plan. With the help of some visual aids, I’ll show you how I use it.

This pictured chart, in partial form, shows 10 different categories of everyday self-care tasks.

A partial chart of some daily activities, which patients should fill out as if they were having a good day. (Courtesy of the COPD Foundation)

You can fill out the above section, ideally with your doctor, to assess your ability to perform daily tasks on a good day. Even if your doctor doesn’t participate, it’s helpful to fill this out every year so you can track changes in your “normal.”

A pale green, very horizontal graphic has lists for "A Normal Day for Me" and "Take Action."

A description and actions for a “Green Day,” when symptoms are pretty much doing well. (Courtesy of the COPD Foundation)

Each morning, when I take my medications and prepare for the day, I do the above “green day” assessment and note any variance from my normal. With this graphic, I typically don’t need to do anything about the details except keep an eye on them to see if they continue or get better. I may not have slept well, for instance, but unless that’s a continuing problem, I don’t need to address it.

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What to do if there are problems

A very horizontal graphic labeled "My Yellow Days" has lists for "A Bad Day for Me" and "Take Action."

This “Yellow Day” chart covers “a bad day.” (Courtesy of the COPD Foundation)

If my morning assessment shows I’m having one of the above issues, then I need to take appropriate actions. This “Yellow” section of the plan is the most helpful to me because of the actions it recommends. I may need to begin taking an over-the-counter medication if I have symptoms of infection, possibly becoming a couch potato for the day while drinking plenty of fluids. This yellow day may progress to a red day, so I need to be aware of any symptom progression.

A very horizontal graphic labeled "My Red Days" shows urgent actions to be taken for more serious symptoms.

This “Red Day” graphic shows urgent actions to be taken if symptoms are more serious. (Courtesy of the COPD Foundation)

On a “Red Day,” I’ll either call my doctor or go to the emergency room because my symptoms need urgent care. To prepare for such days, I have an advance agreement with my family doctor and my pulmonologist to get a same-day appointment.

I’ve gone from not knowing what to do, even whether I should see a doctor, to having confidence in the actions I must take at any given time. That’s a change since before my last exacerbation, when I’d gone four years without needing emergency care.

Whether you use guidance such as this collection or have another method to monitor your health, having a plan is crucial. Remember that old saying: “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.”


Note: COPD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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