Site Map

COPD flare-ups

COPD exacerbation; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation; Emphysema exacerbation; Chronic bronchitis exacerbation


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms can worsen rapidly. You may find it hard to breathe. You may cough or wheeze more or produce more phlegm. You might also feel anxious and have trouble sleeping or doing your daily activities. This problem is called a COPD exacerbation or COPD flare-up.


Certain illnesses, colds, and lung infections from viruses or bacteria can lead to flare-ups. Other causes may include:

You can often manage a flare-up right away with medicines and self-care. Work with your health care provider on an action plan for COPD exacerbations so that you know what to do.

Get to know your usual COPD symptoms, sleep patterns, and when you have good or bad days. This can help you learn the difference between your normal COPD symptoms and signs of a flare-up.

Warning Signs of a COPD Flare-up

Signs and symptoms of a COPD flare-up last 2 days or more and are more intense than your usual symptoms. The symptoms get worse and just don't go away. If you have a full-blown exacerbation, you may need to go to the hospital.

Common early signs include:

Other possible signs of flare-up include:

What to Do at the First Sign of a Flare-up

At the first sign of a flare-up:

How to Prevent COPD Flare-ups

If you have COPD:

Avoid colds and the flu, you should:

Live a healthy lifestyle:

When to Call the Doctor

After following your COPD action plan, contact your provider if your breathing is still:

Also contact your provider if:


Criner GJ, Bourbeau J, Diekemper RL, et al. Prevention of acute exacerbations of COPD: American College of Chest Physicians and Canadian Thoracic Society guideline. Chest. 2015;147(4):894-942. PMID: 25321320

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. 2023 Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of COPD. Accessed December 8, 2023.

Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: Diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, King TE, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 64.


Review Date: 11/25/2023  

Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

ADAM Quality Logo
Health Content Provider

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, for Health Content Provider ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics. This site complied with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information from 1995 to 2022, after which HON (Health On the Net, a not-for-profit organization that promoted transparent and reliable health information online) was discontinued.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2024 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.