What to Know About COPD Flares

COPD FlareMany things can make your lung disease suddenly get worse. These causes include the common cold, pneumonia, acute bronchitis, missing doses of your regular breathing medicines, or exposure to smoke, dust, or other air pollutants.

A COPD flare may last 7-14 days. Medicine may be prescribed to relax the airways and prevent wheezing. Antibiotics will be prescribed if your doctor thinks there is a bacterial infection. Prednisone is helpful to decrease inflammation in a severe attack.


  • Drink lots of water or other fluids (at least 10 glasses a day) during an attack. This will loosen lung secretions and make it easier to breathe. If you have heart or kidney disease, check with your doctor before you drink extra amounts of fluids.

  • Take prescribed medicine exactly at the times advised. If you have a hand-held inhaler or aerosol breathing medicine, do not use it more than once every four hours, unless told to do so. If prescribed an antibiotic or prednisone, take all of the medicine even if you are feeling better after a few days.

  • Do not smoke. Avoid being exposed to the smoke of others.

  • If you were given an inhaler, use it exactly as directed. If you need to use it more often than prescribed, your condition may be getting worse. Contact your doctor or this facility.

NOTE: If you are age 65 or older, or if you have chronic asthma or COPD, a PNEUMOCOCCAL VACCINATION is recommended every five years and an INFLUENZA VACCINATION (FLU-SHOT) every autumn. Ask your doctor about this.

GET PROMPT MEDICAL ATTENTION if any of the following occur:

  • Increased wheezing or shortness of breath

  • Need to use your inhalers more often than usual without relief

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Coughing up lots of dark-colored or bloody sputum (mucus)

  • Chest pain with each breath

  • You do not start to improve within 24 hours

Medical Reviewer: Carlin, Brian Wintrode, MD, FAACVPR; Hilling, Lana R, RCP, FAACVPR Last Annual Review Date: 2011-10-26

Reference: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration section on Better Medicine

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COPD is a disease that gets worse with time.