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Flare-ups of COPD occur when you experience a sustained worsening of symptoms such as more breathlessness, cough or phlegm production that is greater than your typical day-to-day fluctuation. Flare-ups often build up over a relatively short period of time and are typically associated with increased inflammation and narrowing of the airways. You may hear people refer to a flare-up as an exacerbation, lung attack or lung crisis. These all mean the same thing.

Many different factors can potentially cause or trigger a lung flare-up. In several cases the cause is unclear. Common examples include:

The risk of experiencing a lung flare-up can differ between people. Factors known to increase this risk include:

  • Having experienced a prior flare-up, especially in the past year
  • Having more severe lung disease
  • Having a viral or bacterial infection
  • Cardiac or reflux problems
  • Psychological and social environmental stressors
  • Exposure to fumes and air pollution (including smoke, strong cleaning products or perfumes and dust). 

Commonly reported symptoms that may suggest the start of a lung flare-up include:

  • More wheezing / difficulty breathing
  • More coughing than usual
  • More frequent use of relievers
  • Loss of appetite
  • More amount of phlegm
  • Change in colour or thickness of phlegm
  • Poorer sleep
  • More fatigued / lethargic

A change to your routine medical management is required when you are experiencing an exacerbation, and a medical review is recommended that may or may not require hospitalisation

Complications of flare-ups:

In addition to increased symptoms, other problems can ensue during a flare-up and many would require hospitalised interventions with some treatments continuing beyond discharge: