Signs and Symptoms of Lung Infection In COPD

Learn These Signs So You Can Live With Fewer Exacerbations

Not everyone who has the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has an active lung infection. But, people with COPD are predisposed to lung infections. And having a lung infection when you are diagnosed with COPD can be quite serious.

Lung infections can cause COPD exacerbations. In fact, it's estimated that up to 80 percent of exacerbations are caused by respiratory infections. These flare-ups may result in lower quality of life, worsening lung disease, hospitalization, and even death. Exacerbations can also take an expensive toll on your healthcare costs.

Recent research also suggests that bacterial infections can cause what COPD patients consider "bad days" - the fluctuating increases in shortness of breath, cough and sputum that aren't severe enough to considered full-blown exacerbations. 

For these reasons, it's important for you to know what signs of lung infection to look out for.

If your lung infection may be bacterial in nature, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, which can help improve your symptoms. Antibiotics are typically prescribed for three to seven days for bacterial lung infections in COPD. Be sure to take the entire course of antibiotics until they are completely gone. Do not stop taking them if you feel better. Stopping antibiotics too early can lead to antibiotic resistance.

If your infection was caused by the flu (influenza) virus, you will be treated with antiviral medication. People with COPD should get a flu shot every year. 

The following signs and symptoms of lung infection should alert you to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Fever - A Sign of Lung Infection

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Normal body temperature varies from person to person, but in general, it is 98.6 degrees. Having a fever - meaning a temperature higher than this - is one sign that you may have a lung infection. 

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Increased Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is one of the hallmark symptoms of COPD. However, if it begins to worsen, this could be a sign that you are developing a lung infection and need to contact your doctor.

Productive Cough

While a chronic cough is a common symptom of COPD, a cough that gets worse and becomes more productive may be a sign that a lung infection is brewing and medical attention is needed. A productive cough is one that brings up mucus, also known as sputum or phlegm.

Changes in Mucus

Many patients complain about having an increased amount of mucus when they have COPD. When a lung infection is present, however, mucus production not only increases in amount but it also generally gets thicker and stickier and changes in color. It can also have a foul odor to it.

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Pleuritic Chest Pain

Pleuritic chest pain is not cardiac in nature, meaning it is not a result of a heart condition. Chest pain associated with infection of the lungs is sometimes described as a sharp, aching pain that gets worse when breathing deeply or coughing. It may feel like pressure, or tightness, inside the chest wall. However, any type of chest pain is abnormal and needs to be addressed immediately with a health care professional.

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