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:
Author: Healthwise Staff Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.
NOTICE: This health information was not created by Columbia University Irving Medical Center and may not necessarily reflect specific CUIMC practices. For medical advice relating to your personal condition, please consult your doctor. Medical advice disclaimer.