Be an Action Star | Take Action on your COPD Symptoms

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.

It gives you and your loved ones steps to take based on your symptoms. Having a clear plan to follow removes guesswork—and, therefore, a lot of stress.
The benefits of an action plan are clear during an exacerbation, when symptoms such as wheezing or coughing worsen. "In the worst situation, when you're having trouble breathing, you might not be able to tell someone what they need to do," explains Kurt Goerke, area director for the American Lung Association in Florida. "You want to know that if something goes wrong, people know what your action plan is."

So, what does an action plan look like?

Typically, Goerke says, action plans—including the ALA's form—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, Goerke says. It's easy to forget to take your medications when you're feeling well, he says, adding, "but this is partially why 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 their 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 plan also contains information on your specific maintenance and rescue medications, oxygen and lifestyle factors.

One additional benefit, Goerke adds, is that it 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, he says, 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.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all tool," Goerke says. "Each person's COPD is very different."

Creating a unique action plan is an essential step toward managing the condition.