- Breathing stops.
- Moderate to severe difficulty breathing occurs. This means a person may have trouble talking in full sentences or breathing during activity.
- Severe chest pain occurs, or chest pain is quickly getting worse.
- You cough up large amounts of bright red blood.
Call your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if you have been diagnosed with COPD and you:
- Cough up a couple of tablespoons of blood.
- Have shortness of breath or wheezing that is quickly getting worse.
- Start having new chest pain.
- Are coughing more deeply or more often, especially if you notice an increase in mucus (sputum) or a change in the color of the mucus you cough up.
- Have increased swelling in your legs or belly.
- Have a high fever [over 101°F (38.3°C)].
- Develop flu-like symptoms.
If your symptoms (cough, mucus, and/or shortness of breath) suddenly get worse and stay worse, you may be having a COPD flare-up, or exacerbation. Quick treatment for a flare-up may help keep you out of the hospital.
Call your doctor soon for an appointment if:
- Your medicine is not working as well as it had been.
- Your symptoms are slowly getting worse, and you have not seen a doctor recently.
- You have a cold and:
- Your fever lasts longer than 2 to 3 days.
- Breathlessness occurs or becomes noticeably worse.
- Your cough gets worse.
- You have not been diagnosed with COPD but are having symptoms. A history of smoking (even in the past) greatly increases the likelihood that symptoms are from COPD.
- You cough up any amount of blood.
Talk to your doctor
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, talk with your doctor at your next regular appointment about:
- Help to stop smoking. To review tips on how to stop smoking, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
- A yearly flu vaccine.
- A pneumococcal vaccine. Usually, people need only one shot. But doctors recommend a second one for some people who got their first shot before they turned 65.
- An exercise program or pulmonary rehabilitation.
- Any updates of your medicines or treatment that you may need.
Who to see
Health professionals who can diagnose COPD and provide a basic treatment plan include:
- Your diagnosis of COPD is uncertain or hard to make because you have diseases with similar symptoms.
- You have unusual symptoms that are not usually seen in people with COPD.
- You are younger than 50 and/or have no history or a short history of cigarette smoking.
- You have to go to the hospital often because of sudden increases in shortness of breath.
- You need long-term oxygen therapy or corticosteroid therapy.
- You and your doctor are considering surgery, such as a lung transplant or lung volume reduction.