Acute exacerbation of COPD is an abrupt increase in symptoms of shortness of breath and/or wheezing, often associated with increase in production of purulent sputum (sputum containing pus). Hospitalization may be required if the symptoms are severe. If symptoms are milder, one may choose to be treated as an outpatient.


Treatment usually includes antibiotics. Approximately 50 percent of acute exacerbations are due primarily to the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (causing pneumonia), Haemophilus influenzae (causing flu), and Moraxella catarrhalis (causing pneumonia). Numerous antibiotics effectively treat these infections.

Other Medications

Corticosteroids are beneficial in acute exacerbations of COPD. If the patient is hospitalized, steroids often are given intravenously. Bronchodilator dosages are increased during acute exacerbations to decrease acute bronchospasm. Theophylline may be used during acute exacerbations of COPD.


Oxygen requirements usually increase and supplemental oxygen is generally provided.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 May 2000

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015