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Lung Infections and COPD - Topic Overview

When you have COPD, it’s easier for you to get lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia. If you are still smoking, the risk may be even higher.

COPD causes your airways to get narrower. That makes it harder for your lungs to clear out mucus. And that mucus makes an inviting home for the germs that cause lung infections.

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Causes of COPD Acute Exacerbations

Lung infections are the most common cause of acute exacerbations. These infections can be viral or bacterial. Some specific viruses that cause COPD exacerbations are influenza, rhinovirus or adenovirus. Recent evidence suggests exacerbations of COPD are often caused by certain kinds of bacteria. These are known as mycoplasma and chlamydia. Your health care provider may need to consider the risk of you getting an infection from one of these less common organisms. He/she will need to consider...

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These infections also cause more shortness of breath and coughing when you have COPD than they would otherwise.

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

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. Small streaks of blood may be present.
  • A mild fever, usually less than 101°F (38.3°C).
  • A general feeling of tiredness (malaise).
  • A sensation of tightness, burning, or dull pain in the chest under the breastbone that usually is worse when you breathe deeply or cough.
  • Whistling noises (wheezing) when you breathe, especially during physical exertion.

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • A cough, often producing discolored mucus (sputum) from the lungs. Mucus coughed up from the lungs may be green or rust-colored or tinged with blood.
  • A fever, which may be less common in older adults.
  • Shaking chills (just once or many times).
  • Rapid, often shallow, breathing.
  • Chest wall pain that is often made worse when you cough or inhale.
  • A rapid heartbeat.
  • Fatigue or vague feeling of weakness (malaise).
  • Shortness of breath.

You may need to take antibiotics and other medicines to prevent the problem from getting worse.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 19, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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