Do Exacerbations Cause More Lung Damage?

July 27th, 2011 | Author: COPD Coach

Dear COPD Doctor,

Do flare-ups or exacerbations progressively damage the lungs and/or lessen lung function? Is it to be expected that after each flare-up it will take me progressively longer to recover?

Lung Flare-Ups

Dear Lung Flare-Ups,

Exacerbations or flares can lessen lung function and recovery can take time.

With recurrent flares, recovery may not be complete. That is why it is so important to try to prevent these exacerbations from occurring by treating them aggressively when they happen.

Exacerbations are times when your COPD gets worse. COPDers may have one to two exacerbations a year but the cause may vary. Exacerbations will worsen as your COPD progresses, therefore it’s important to take the necessary steps to help prevent the fast progression of your COPD—including taking your medicines, following your pulmonary rehab program, and eating healthy.

Signs of an exacerbation are:

  • Wheezing
  • Increased cough
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Increased mucus production
  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Change in mucus color
  • Increased temperature
  • Impaired mental status

Make a plan with your doctor for treating your exacerbations. Find out if your doctor wants to see you when you get one, and ask how you can get a quick appointment as soon as it happens. Your doctor may prescribe medications so that you can stay at home when you do get sick. There are rescue medications available to take in the moment of an exacerbation.

Treat your exacerbations as soon as possible. Always pay mind to how you feel and if you have signs of an exacerbation.

The good news is that we have several medications approved by FDA to help prevent exacerbations and a number of medicines available to treat them.

Thanks for writing,

The COPD Doctor

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.

If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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