COPD Flare-Ups

Overview

At times, your symptoms may suddenly flare up and get much worse. This is called a COPD exacerbation (say "ig-ZAS-ur-BAY-shun"). When this happens, your usual symptoms quickly get worse and stay bad. This can be dangerous, and you may have to go to the hospital.

Symptoms of a flare-up include:

  • Coughing more than usual.
  • A change in the amount, color, or thickness of mucus.
  • More shortness of breath than usual.

What causes them?

The two most common causes of a COPD flare-up, or attack, are respiratory tract infections, such as acute bronchitis or pneumonia, and air pollution. Having other health problems, such as heart failure or an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) may also trigger a flare-up. In some cases, the cause is not known.

What happens during a flare-up?

When you have a COPD flare-up, your lungs may suddenly produce more mucus. Or the airways of your lungs (bronchial tubes) may suddenly get narrower. These two things reduce the airflow in your lungs. That makes it harder to breathe and makes your coughing worse.

How are they treated?

Treatment of a COPD flare-up, or attack, depends on how bad the flare-up is. Mild flare-ups may be treated by following your doctor's instructions for using a quick-relief (short-acting) inhaler or oral steroid medicines. More severe flare-ups may involve visits to your doctor's office or clinic. Or you may need to be treated in the hospital. Treatments include:

  • Quick-relief inhaled bronchodilators. These medicines relax the bronchial tubes and make it easier to breathe.
  • Oral steroid medicines. They reduce the swelling in your airways.
  • A machine to help you breathe better or to breathe for you. These are called ventilation machines.
  • Oxygen, to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood.

Treatment may also include:

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Hasmeena Kathuria MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website, and its associated websites, is provided as a benefit to the local community, and the Internet community in general; it does not constitute medical advice. We try to provide quality information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this website and its associated sites. As medical advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each patient and healthcare is constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of a competent physician. Furthermore, in providing this service, Adventist HealthCare does not condone or support all of the content covered in this site. As an Adventist health care organization, Adventist HealthCare acts in accordance with the ethical and religious directives for Adventist health care services.

Find a Doctor

Find an Adventist HealthCare affiliated doctor by calling our FREE physician referral service at 800-642-0101 or by searching our online physician directory.

View Doctors

Set Your Location

Setting your location helps us to show you nearby providers and locations based on your healthcare needs.