Lung infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

The airway obstruction in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reduces the lung's ability to clear mucus and increases the risk of lung infections. As a result, you are more likely to get lung infections such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia. Your lungs are also more sensitive to the effects of the infection, so infections frequently cause a significant increase in respiratory symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath.

If you have COPD and symptoms of acute bronchitis or pneumonia, you should see your health professional.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • A change in the amount, color, and consistency of the mucus you cough up. The mucus may be clear, yellow, or green. Occasionally small streaks of blood may be present.
  • Mild fever, usually less than 101°F (38.3°C).
  • General feeling of tiredness (malaise).
  • Sensation of tightness, burning, or dull pain in the chest under the breastbone that usually is worse when breathing deeply or coughing.
  • Whistling noises (wheezing) when breathing, especially during physical exertion.

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Cough, often producing discolored mucus (sputum) from the lungs. Mucus coughed up from the lungs (sputum) may be green or rust-colored or tinged with blood.
  • Fever, which may be less common in older adults.
  • Shaking chills (a single episode or many attacks).
  • Rapid, often shallow, breathing.
  • Chest wall pain that is often made worse by coughing or inhaling.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Fatigue or vague feeling of weakness (malaise).
  • Shortness of breath.

You may need to take antibiotics and other medications to prevent the problem from becoming worse.

Last Updated: May 8, 2008

Author: Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS & Cynthia Tank

Medical Review: Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine & Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology

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