When you have COPD, especially if you have chronic bronchitis, you may sometimes have sudden attacks where your breathing and coughing symptoms suddenly get worse and stay that way. These attacks are called COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups.
With treatment, many people recover and return to the same level of shortness of breath they had before the attack.
These attacks are often life-threatening. If your symptoms suddenly get worse, and if taking your medicine doesn't help, have someone take you to the emergency room. Call
COPD attacks often occur more frequently, last longer, and are more severe the longer you have COPD.
The two most common causes of a COPD attack are:1
Other causes may include heart failure, allergic reactions, inhaling food or stomach contents into the lungs, and exposure to temperature changes or chemicals. In about 33 out of 100 attacks—about a third—the cause is not known.1
Here's what happens during an attack:
In a COPD attack, your usual symptoms suddenly get worse:
Treatment of a COPD attack depends on how bad it is. It may involve several visits to your doctor's office or clinic. Or you may need to be treated in the hospital.
To treat COPD attacks, experts recommend:
Treatment may also include:
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