Be an Action Star

By Terri Brewis, BS, RRT, AE-C, PMC respiratory manager

You know the saying: When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. For people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an action plan is part of smart, healthy living.

This plan gives you and your loved ones steps to take based on your symptoms. Having a clear course of action to follow removes guesswork—and, therefore, a great deal of stress.

So, what does an action plan look like?

Typically, action plans—including the American Lung Association's—use a stoplight approach. The green zone contains information on what you should do when you're feeling well.

Perhaps surprisingly, the green days are where a lot of people who have COPD need their plan the most. It's easy to forget to take your medications when you're feeling well.

Under yellow, you'll find the steps to take during a bad day or a flare-up. These steps might include using a rescue inhaler or oxygen, or taking an antibiotic.

Finally, in the red zone, when symptoms are the most severe, you'll generally find a reminder to seek immediate medical treatment and steps to take until you can get to the emergency department or paramedics arrive.

The action plan also helps people who have COPD keep track of their medications and make sure refills are ordered on time. And it's a way to communicate with emergency personnel so they can choose the best course of treatment for you.

Plus, it's a great tool for patient-physician communication. In fact, a conversation with your doctor is the first step in completing your personalized action plan.

2 Medication Myths

It's important for people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to know how to take their medications. Here are two common myths.

Myth: As long as you're puffing on your inhaler, you're getting your medication.

Truth: Not necessarily. First, you need to prime the inhaler. This involves shaking it and spraying out a dose or two into the air to clear out any debris and make sure you're getting a well-metered dose.

Myth: Once you prime the inhaler, you're guaranteed to get the dose you need.

Truth: Think again. The No. 1 problem when people spray a rescue inhaler into their mouth is that the medicine hits the back of their throat. That can cause irritation, but worse, it means that the medication is not going where it's needed: the lungs. A device called a spacer can be added to the inhaler to help ensure the best results from your inhaler. Using a spacer device helps improve the amount of medication received by two to four times compared with using the inhaler alone.

Create an Action Plan Today

If you have COPD or asthma, establishing an action plan is part of smart, healthy living. It gives you and your loved ones steps to take based on your symptoms. Go to to download a form, and then talk to your doctor about completing your personalized plan.