Emphysema - Flare ups: Can someone tell... - British Lung Foun...

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Emphysema - Flare ups

SkyGazer177 profile image

Can someone tell me how long a COPD flare-up generally lasts, and how long it takes to recover?

thank you


36 Replies

Hi. Christine. We are all different I could go up to 3 weeks feeling rough once my consultant and myself tried different antibiotics that suited plus steroids I normally go under 2 weeks with hubby looking after me making sure I was eating. If worried talk to your gp he will be able to put your mind at rest. Take care x

Thank you for your reply. I am so confused. I was lone working on Tuesday evening, and out of the blue I couldn't breathe, I couldn't get any air in my lungs. I have never suffered such severe shortness of breath. I was trying to stay calm but my head felt it was going to explode and after several minutes of trying to get air in my lungs, I was boiling hot and wanted to take my clothes off. I was in such a state. I called 999 and with all my strength, managed to say I need help, I can't breathe. I have COPD. The emergency operator said, " well, you can breathe as otherwise you wouldn't be able to talk to me". I said I feel like I am dying, send someone to me. He said there is a 90-minute wait. No one came out to me. Eventually, after about 30 minutes or so, I could breathe a little easier but felt worn out. After about an hour and 15 minutes, i was back to normal and it was like nothing had happened. When i told my GP, said " i dont know what that was".....now i feel afraid to go out incase it happens again

Sorry, I meant to add that I used the blue inhaler 8 times and it did not help at all.

Maricopa profile image
Maricopa in reply to SkyGazer177

First, I can’t imagine them telling you 90 minutes. Here in the states where I live they’d have been to my house in 10 minutes or less. As far as the inhaler. I once was in the same state you were in. Using the inhaler several times only worsened the situation. It swelled my throat as I was unable to properly take the inhaler deeply. I wasn’t doing it right due to my shallow breaths. It made the situation worse and I panicked more. It is so scary. Exacerbations can be all levels. An exacerbation is simply anything different from the norm. Some are mild. Some are severe. They can last a few days or several weeks. I am on an antibiotic regimen of 3x a week for maintenance. And 5mg prednisone daily. My last exacerbation a couple months ago was contracting RSV. It was terrible and lasted five weeks. Been good since. I’ve only had the one exacerbation in a year.

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to Maricopa

Thank you Maricopa Yes, he said 90 minutes. I was on outreach support as I work with vulnerable adults. A lady downstairs came out and see me on the stairs struggling to breathe, she also phoned 999 and they told her it would be around 90 minutes too. If it was an exacerbation, it only lasted around 30 minutes or so and then my breathing started to return to normal, although I was pretty wiped out. I couldn't put up with it for 5 weeks as you have. That sounds awful. Good Luck & take care of yourself

Could have been a panic attack. Difficult to do but sit maybe by a window with it open. Breathe in and out slowly hopefully you wi start to feel calmer but speak to your gp or consultant to talk about what's going. Also you could be tetaining 02. I suffer with this and wear a NIV mask when I go to bed a d occasionally during the day it helps me

No, I don't believe it was a panic attack, definitely not. I last had something similarlast November, nothing half as severe though. I thought it was the fireworks across the road, although all my windows were closed. It went on for around 40 minutes but I could still talk, had a lot of wheezing that time, and the inhaler did not help. When I spoke to the doctor at the hospital, he asked how long I had to stay off work with it. I said I went to work the following morning. I said I was ok, later that evening. He said, he didn't think it was a flare-up but more to do with my having had covid. I just dont know what to make of it.

Bevvy profile image
Bevvy in reply to SkyGazer177

No idea what happened but am absolutely appalled by your 111 call handler experience. If possible I think you should raise a complaint. Mainly because they should be stopped doing this to someone else!You shouldn’t be told you have to wait 90mins with breathing issues.

For the future if you google it there is a scheme where you can call for an ambulance via text. You need to register for this but is especially if you live alone and possibly can’t talk to an operator.

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to Bevvy

Thanks, Bevvy. I am definitely going to find out how to make a complaint, it's not just about me, it is about it happening to someone else and maybe that person ending up losing their life. My doctor was like, are you sure, he said that. Yes, he said that and the lady downstairs who also made the call was told the same thing. I shall have a look into this scheme you mention. Thank you

Gladwyn profile image
Gladwyn in reply to SkyGazer177

I’m utterly shocked at that lol emergency operator. Utterly callous! Did an ambulance turn up at all? I had a similar experience in that I woke up in the night to go to the loo and suddenly couldn’t breathe. I was terrified my mind was racing trying to think what to do I couldn’t teach my mobile or the house phone but even if I had been able to I wouldn’t have been able to speak . I have heard that someone will be sent if no answer when the operator is on the line they may ask u to press a key to answer a yes or no type question but I thought to myself there’s no way they would get in to teach me without breaking the door down or taking a window out. I was in a terrible state it’s indescribable you have to have been in the situation you can hardly breathe and the tiny bit of air you are reserving is saving your life … if you use it then your dead as nothing in reserve is how it feels. Anyway after a while of standing stock still leaning on my trolley very very gradually my stock of air increased until I was safe to shuffle over and sit down then to the loo! I rang the dr the next day and he said it probably didn’t last as long as I thought it had but I was the one it was happening too and I know it wasn’t 10 mins. He gave me a prescription for Ventolin evohaler which in a panic like that is easier than what I had, the Ventolin accuhalor plus increased my Furosomide. It happened twice and was just as terrifying. I pray it doesn’t happen again but I always keep my mobile close at hand in case!

I hope your feeling easier nowadays SkyGazer. 🍀🍀🍀🍀

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to Gladwyn

Thank you for your reply, Gladwyn. Just reading your comment has given me the chills. I am so upset with the emergency operator and would make a complaint if I knew who to directed at. Would you say that was a flare-up? I asked my GP and she said " don't know darling". I have never experienced anything so bad and it has really shaken me up. It has been difficult speaking to doctors at the moment. Today, I was 23 in the queue to speak to the doctor's receptionist to get a tel consultation with the doctor. i gave up at 17. thanks, Gladwyn. Take care of yourself

Gladwyn profile image
Gladwyn in reply to SkyGazer177

I’m no expert and we are all different but to me what happened to you wasn’t a flare up as it didn’t last so long even though it felt like it did. I think something happened that caused you to lose breathing rhythm and that caused instant alarm and panic which exacerbated everything and ultimately freezing the ability to breathe naturally…. more than likely the same happened to me. Probably rubbish Sky but it’s all I can think of. What I believe in now is simply mind over matter…. Try and relax and let your mind sort out your breathing 😃 To live is what our instinct aims for so you will….. don’t fret. 🍀🍀🍀

I had that once . Taken to a@e , they couldn't find a reason for it after doing all the usual tests etc. . Mine lasted about 6 hours . Have learnt since to do the breathing exercises and try to relax . Hope your ok now 🤗🤗

This COPD is all new to me as it's only since I caught covid in March 2020 that I started to have issues with my breathing, but nothing like Tuesday. I had practiced the pursing lips breathing but trying to do that the other night, no I was struggling so badly. Thank you Bluenotes.

Hiya, I am shocked to hear that the operator told you that you have to wait 90 min for an ambulance when having troubles breathing.

It's sounds like you had some kind of an attack, have you been diagnosed with asthma too? It's sounds to me like an asthma attack.

I would definitely speak to your GP about this attack you suffered from to let this checked out. And I would definitely complain about this operator.

When I recover from a flare up it can take me quite a bit up to two weeks, longer when I had an asthma attack.

I hope you getting better again soon.

You take care and stay safe. 🍀🍀🍀

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to MELNEL

Hi MELNEL No, I have never suffered from Asthma. I caught covid in March 2020 and that is when my problems started. A few months later, I had all the tests for my lungs and was told I have mild emphysema ( I had smoked for 47 years) and also have thickening in the lung, I don't know how to spell it, but he said it was due to having been a smoker. My dad had the same thing too. I appreciate everyone on this board has maybe had similar experiences or have worse COPD but I honestly thought I was going to die. Even when I caught covid and it went into my lungs, it was nothing as bad. As I have said, I was ok about an hour or so later and went back to work. it was strange. Take care MELNEL and thank you

MELNEL profile image
MELNEL in reply to SkyGazer177

It must have been frightening for you when you never had such experience, alone to think that even the emergency was not getting through you....I am just shocked to hear how scared you have been to be alone in this kind of moment. I really hope that the doctors are able to find out what it is. Best wishes 🌺🌺🌺

I can't explain what happened to you but I would encourage you to make a formal complaint about the way the 999 call handler treated you, it was totally unacceptable. I have emphysema and late onset asthma and occasionally have sudden onset episodes of struggling to breathe but not to the degree that you experienced. I can, however, imagine how very frightening it was. I don't think that it was a flare up of COPD and I hope that you are alright now, but please do consider making a complaint.

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to CDPO16

CDPO16 Yes, I am going to see if I can make a complaint, I am very upset about it. I am 64 now and I have never called the emergency service for myself, not even when I couldn't breathe having caught the covid, so for me to contact them, means I was in trouble. I am also worried that if it happens again and I need help I won't get it. Can I ask you why you don't think it is a flare-up?

CDPO16 profile image
CDPO16 in reply to SkyGazer177

A flare up wouldn't be so short lived if you are OK now. For me a flare up is increasing breathlessness not relieved by using my ventolin along with feeling unwell and loss of appetite. For others it includes increasing phlegm and phlegm beginning to look discoloured. I don't include that as a symptom for me as I very rarely have a cough. The flare up only responds to a course of prednisolone and, sometimes, although not always, a course of antibiotics too. I was also thinking asthma when I read MELNEL's reply but I'm by no means an expert on any lung disease. The BLF nurses might be able to explain it if you felt like phoning their help line.

Maricopa profile image
Maricopa in reply to SkyGazer177

I’m 64 as well.

CDPO16 profile image
CDPO16 in reply to SkyGazer177

Having done a bit of checking how to make a complaint, to do so you need to phone the Ambulance Trust in your area to lodge a complaint. They will listen back to the call and the call taker will be given any relevant coaching where necessary, which is obviously necessary on this occasion. As in any organisation there will be 'bad eggs' and complaints enable the service to weedle them out. I do think that the service is 99% good.

garshe profile image
garshe in reply to CDPO16

The operator was not to blame. Skygazer was back to normal after just over an hour .an ambulance would have not been needed as it needs to go to others more in need. I definitely say its was an anxiety attack but Skygazer disagrees. I was going to help as I suffered terrible but am now over them. Absolute heaven. It was a paramedic who diagnosed my attacks and I was so grateful. Every time I've been admitted with an exacerbation I am unable to string a sentence together but Skygazer was talking to the operator. hopefully he or she will let us help ..take care xxSheila 💕💕😘👍

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to garshe

I have already said it was not a panic attack I have long covid, emphysema, and Broncho sepsis......I have since been told by the doctor at the clinic, It was probably bronchospasm. He has also mentioned they don't know enough about the effects of the Covid, that I had in March 2020. As I have mentioned previously, I have never experienced any issues from shortness of breath until I caught the damn Covid last year.

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to garshe

When I said I was talking, I was gasping and desperate for air and could hardly get my words out. I couldnt answer his questions whether i had covid symptoms. I was collapsed on the stairs. It was not a panic attack, i have already said that. You think the ambulance was right not to come out? I wonder how many times that has happened, maybe he too assumed, wrongly, that it was a panic attack

garshe profile image
garshe in reply to SkyGazer177

This forum is not for insults. I have been very understanding. You have just joined and obviously have issues. I am well known on here and anyone will tell you I only give helpfull advice. I do not indulge in confrontation so I will respect your wishes and never comment on your posts again. I did not make light of your situation as,I used to suffer horrendous Anxiety attacks and know how terribly scary they are. I was going to help you . I was diagnosed with severe COPD 11 yrs ago so I really am quite an expert like many on here. We all want to help but I will not comment again. I wish you well and hope you get your problem sorted. Sheila 👍

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to garshe

You said it definitely sounds like a panic attack, despite me saying it was not a panic attack. You said the operator was right to not send anyone out. I must point out that you are incorrect on both accounts.I have been told by the doctor at the respiratory clinic that I have probably suffered a broncho spasm, and he also said, he was most surprised that an ambulance did not come out to me, as neither I knew nor the caller knew how low my oxygen levels had dropped. I have taken note of other comments on this board and from others, that i will be making a complaint as to why no one was sent out as i don't want that to happen to me again or anyone else in a similar situation. If they check the telephone recording they will know that I was in a state and was severely short of breath. Good Luck to you and hope you keep well

I just looked at your profile Christine and saw that you only joined the forum 2 days ago so welcome. We are a friendly lot with a lot of experience between. There is always someone around to offer support should you need it, along with lots of general interest stuff and light hearted posts to brighten the day.

There is also a great deal of information about COPD on the BLF website that you may find helpful. Best wishes Carole.

That definitely sounds like a Panic attack . The operator was right as if your oxygen levels dropped because of an exacerbation you would have trouble talking. I suffered really badly with these as I suffered from Health Anxiety. I understand how frightening this is .I have since learned how to control my anxiety and stopped these attacks completely.. Always remember you wont die from an Anxiety attack. Once you over think the matter it gets worse. They can last forever it seems . Thinking of you and hopefully you will learn how to control these . Sheila.👍💕

SkyGazer177 profile image
SkyGazer177 in reply to garshe

Most definitely was not a panic attack

HI SUNSHINEY! , I know exactly how you feel ! , I have had this quite a few times , the trick is not to panic . ( difficult , but try to stay calm ) , ) - heaven knows why the Ambulance was that late .!.. that was very rare , in my experience .... Do you have a NEBULISER MACHINE ..? , You can get the " liquid NEBULES to put in this device from the doctor on prescription ... this device really helps if things get difficult , as you may know , it forces a " gas " down your lungs , to open them up !, all you have to do is breath it in through a mask SLOWLY AND DEEPLY and things start to improve in a few minuets , I use one most days , to " START MY DAY OFF " !!..AFTER WAKING UP .!. TO GET THE "TUBES " GOING AGAIN , - AS I CALL THEM !!. they are a bit " sleepy " sometimes ! .... I have had to get an Ambulance over 30 times in the last ten years , WHEN THINGS REALLY HAVE GOT BAD , - but again - try not to panic !, I now know what to expect ... its the " UNKNOWN " that frightens us !!, even the ambulance will start you off on a Nebuliser ., OR Oxygen and Air ..and at hospital they will put you on a Nebuliser MACHINE immediately , and probably inject you with STEROIDS for this " Exacerbation " .. as this condition is called ..... so get yourself a Nebuliser machine - your nurse can tell you where , or the " BLF helpline = ( 03000-030-555 will tell you . - it is the nature of this illness , but after a while your' learn to deal with it ! SO KEEP CALM !... good luck !. now lets see a nice happy smile to brighten my day !!..😀

Welcome to the forum. I've twice had nasty experiences like the one you describe. The first time it was an asthma attack, which I recognised because I'd seen other people having them. It was hard not to panic, not being easy to breathe. Doc diagnosed asthma the next day and gave me a Ventolin, the start down the slippery slope to bronchiectasis. Next time I was having a heart attack. Since your symptom could have been either of these conditions, amongst others, both of which are potentially life threatening, it was a gross dereliction of duty by the operator not to send an ambulance. As others have suggested the best you can do is keep calm and try to take little breaths-any oxygen is welcome to your body. Good luck. I hope you can convince your doctor that this was real enough.

The Emergency Person Was Very Callous And Cruel You Could Not Really Talk And It Sounds Like You Were Not Taken Seriously By Them Either .. In One Of My Exacerbation I Could Not Breath As Usual With It But I Also Collapsed And When The Ambulance People Came They Had Tô Revive Me It All Went Black And Can’t Remember Being Brought Round That Was Scary As I Just Remember Collapsing When I Could Not Breath Anymore .. Takes Me A Couple Of Weeks To Get Over

I Do Hope You Are Feeling A lot Better Now But Please Speak To Your GP About This Do You Have Another Inhaler ? Take Care Keep Safe 🖤🖤

Hi, I was diagnosed with mild emphysema (COPD) beginning of 2018 , got no help or advise until late 2019 when I had a review and the GP realized that I had never been offered any inhalers or given an action plan or rescue pack(medication). I wwent through 5 different inhalers to find one that worked . I have had 3 exacerbations , 1 in 2019 and 2 in 2020. My first one came on quick could not catch my breath and could not talk( my wife had to talk to the GP) and took a couple of hours to calm down had to start the rescue pack which you take for a week and I felt wiped out for a couple of weeks. But my second one was the opposite I was at the GP and had trouble breathing could still talk but was told to start my rescue pack as i was having an exacerbation (lasted 2 weeks). I feel that everyone is different and react differently , I for instance have emphysema but have not had a cough for years . caught Covid in january but did not know it until they did a blood test now i am being told i have long covid and maybe the covid has caused your problems as they are still learning how it affects people last time i looked there where over 200 different symptoms, and i have most of them as i have copd, gord, fnd and spinal artheritis and symptoms overlap. good luck hope all goes well

Hi there and welcome to the forum. I am so sorry to hear about your experience, it must have been very frightening. We have experienced respiratory nurses available on the helpline. If you live in the UK and would like to have a chat about the general management of your COPD call us on 03000 030 555 . Have a look at our website as well as it has lots of great information. I have added the link for you below.


Take care


I think the exacerbation that you had was due to covid and which made the emphysema, of which you were not yet aware of having, worsen. It seems logical to me that this would occur as the covid attacked your respiratory system and would make any existing conditions become more pronounced. I know that I was not aware of having emphysema until a few years ago when I was diagnosed with it. Why you had this exacerbation at that particular time, I cannot say, but I would think that the covid is in some way at the bottom of it.

Of course, a person panics when they cannot breathe, but that is not the same as having a panic attack. When you think about it, a person panics in many situations. You panic when you're drowning or choking or when whatever other awful stuff that can happen to a person occurs. So therefore, I cannot see how anyone can say with any certainty that you had a panic attack which by the way is often accompanied by many other symptoms besides not being able to breathe. Hope you are doing better.

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