5 Treatment Options for COPD Exacerbation

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  • COPD Overview

    COPD Overview

    COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a common form of lung disease. People who have COPD suffer from inflammation and constriction of the airways. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, frequent lung infections such as bronchitis, and fatigue. COPD can be effectively managed with medications and lifestyle adjustments, but sometimes symptoms worsen. This increase in symptoms is called an exacerbation or flare-up. Administer treatment for COPD exacerbations as soon as possible to restore normal breathing.

  • What Triggers an Exacerbation?

    What Triggers an Exacerbation?

    A specific trigger often causes an exacerbation of COPD symptoms. A trigger is an outside event or circumstance that brings about symptoms. Common triggers for COPD include:

    • cold, dry air
    • extreme heat and humidity
    • smoke and smog
    • fumes from chemical cleaners, perfumes, scented air fresheners, etc.

    COPD acts just a little differently in everyone, even though most people experience similar symptoms. The events that trigger a flare-up for you may not be the same as for another person with COPD.

  • Bronchodilators


    Every COPD patient has an action plan. An action plan is a written statement of steps to take in the event of an exacerbation. Your personalized guidelines will most often direct you to your quick-acting inhaler. The inhaler is filled with bronchodilator medication, which helps open up blocked airways. Quick-acting medicines help you breathe more easily within a few minutes. Names of commonly prescribed, quick-acting bronchodilators include:

    • albuterol
    • levalbuterol
    • ipratropium

    Your doctor might also prescribe a slow-onset bronchodilator to use for maintenance. Medications may take several hours to work, but they can help you breathe freely in between flare-ups. 

  • Corticosteroids


    Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medicines that reduce inflammation of the airways. During an exacerbation, you might take a corticosteroid in pill form that acts quickly on your lungs. Prednisone is one corticosteroid that’s widely prescribed for COPD flare-ups. Corticosteroids have many potential side effects, including weight gain, fluctuations in blood sugar and blood pressure, and bloating. For this reason, oral corticosteroids are used as a short-term solution for COPD episodes.

    Corticosteroid medications are sometimes combined with bronchodilator drugs into one inhaler. Your doctor might have you use this combination medicine during a flare-up.

  • Antibiotics


    People who have COPD produce more mucus in their lungs than the average person. Excess mucus means more risk of bacterial infection. An exacerbation can be a sign of bacterial infection. Studies published in the European Respiratory Review state that approximately 50 percent of mucus samples taken during COPD flare-ups test positive for bacteria. Antibiotics can clear up an active infection, which in turn reduces airway inflammation. You might have a prescription for antibiotics tucked into your action plan to fill at the first sign of an exacerbation.

  • Oxygen Therapy

    Oxygen Therapy

    Having COPD means you frequently have trouble breathing, and may not be getting enough oxygen on a daily basis. Oxygen therapy is part of ongoing treatment for COPD for many patients. Those in the advanced stages of lung disease may need supplemental oxygen all the time, while others only need the extra help during a flare-up. Oxygen therapy relieves the shortness of breath that occurs during an exacerbation. You’ll have the treatment at home or in the hospital based on the severity of the flare-up.

  • Hospitalization


    If you’ve lived with COPD for a while, you’re probably used to the occasional spikes in symptoms and are able to handle them at home. But sometimes, a flare-up becomes severe and potentially life threatening. Seek immediate medical attention if you show any of the following symptoms:

    • chest pain
    • blue lips
    • becoming unresponsive
    • agitation
    • confusion
  • Prevention


    COPD exacerbations can be prevented in many cases. Staying away from situations that trigger symptoms is the short answer to the question of prevention. Steer clear of secondhand smoke, and quit smoking if you smoke yourself. Ask coworkers to refrain from wearing strong scents around you, and use unscented cleaning products in your home. Keep as healthy as possible through a low-fat, antioxidant-rich, varied diet, plenty of rest, and gentle exercise when you’re able. COPD is a chronic condition, but with the proper tools, it can have minimal impact on your everyday life.


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