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Acute exacerbations of COPD: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the condition in which the respiratory symptoms of COPD get worsened.

COPD is the third major cause of death around the world, and exacerbations increase the risk.

  • Partly preventable by medications and self-care
  • Treatable by medical professionals
  • Medical diagnosis is required
  • Lab tests and imaging is always required
  • Medium term: Takes months to return to the baseline status

Exacerbations are caused by lung inflammation due to bacterial or viral infection. Pneumonia, flu, seasonal allergens, air pollution and smoke, bronchiectasis and severe airflow limitation can invoke exacerbations. Some of the complications associated with the condition include cardiovascular problems. Ventilatory support might be required for patients who suffer from acute exacerbations.


People may experience

  • Affected breathing: becomes shallow, similar to breathing post strenuous exercise
  • Coughing: excessive
  • Increased mucus: yellow, green, tanned; often bloody
  • Oxygen levels: lower than normal
  • Breathlessness: after minimal activity
  • Sleepiness: excessive
  • Wheezing


Self-care: Avoid triggers that aggravate the symptoms. Carry inhalers for ease in breathing.

Medications: Antibiotics help in controlling the infection. β-agonists and anticholinergics are initial treatments, and bronchodilators are usually started before discharge from the hospital. Corticosteroids comprise the standard treatment.

Specialist: In most cases, the patients are hospitalized. Oxygen supply is maintained in high concentrations, and ventilation support is provided. Thus, in case of worsening of COPD, it is recommended that a doctor be contacted immediately.

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