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Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2021 | Last updated: June 2022

Fevers are a natural response that can help the body fight off infections. For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fever may be a sign of more serious problems.1,2

What is a fever?

A fever is a temporary increase in our body’s temperature. It is usually the body’s reaction to something unusual. It can be a sign of a virus or infection.1

The typical normal body temperature for adults is 98.6° F (37° C). However, not everyone’s normal temperature is exactly 98.6° F. It may be a little higher or lower than that. Our temperatures also can fluctuate throughout the day. In adults, a temperature over 100° F is considered a fever.1

Symptoms of a fever

Fever symptoms will depend on the person and how high the fever is. Common symptoms include:1

  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Shivering
  • Headache or muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling weak

Some symptoms may be a sign of a high fever and may be cause for concern. Contact a doctor if the fever is paired with symptoms like:1

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  • Having hallucinations (seeing something that is not really there)
  • Feeling confused or irritable
  • Seizures
  • Severe headaches
  • Consistent vomiting

How does COPD cause fevers?

If someone with COPD has a fever, it can be a sign of a respiratory infection. This can be very serious because respiratory infections are the most common cause of COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups.3

  • Respiratory infections include:2-5
  • Cold
  • Acute bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial tubes)
  • Flu
  • Pneumonia (inflammation of the air sacs in 1 or both lungs)

Symptoms besides a fever that may be a sign of an infection include:2

  • Increased amounts of coughed-up mucus
  • Change in color of mucus
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling more tired than normal
  • Increased difficulty breathing or wheezing

If you have COPD and are showing symptoms of an infection, it may be a good idea to contact your doctor. Catching an infection early can make it easier to treat and may prevent a serious flare-up.2,3

Respiratory infections are the most common cause of acute exacerbations for people with COPD. These are also called COPD attacks or flare-ups. A flare-up happens when COPD symptoms get much worse suddenly. These attacks can be dangerous, and sometimes they must be treated in the hospital.3

Because respiratory infections can often be the cause of COPD attacks, fevers can be a possible warning sign of a flare-up. But even though fevers can be a warning sign of a flare-up, not all COPD flare-ups include fevers.3

How are fevers treated?

How a fever is treated depends on what is causing it and how high the person’s temperature is. Sometimes it is better to avoid lowering the fever because raising the body temperature is 1 of the body’s tools for fighting off infection. For fevers above 103° F or if someone is showing serious symptoms, it is best to contact a doctor.1

People with COPD sometimes need to receive treatment for a fever because their immune systems are weakened. Or, a fever can be a sign of more serious complications. Doctors can give advice about whether to treat the fever, its cause, or both. For example, if the fever is caused by a respiratory infection, antibiotics can treat the infection and lower the fever.1,2

There are also steps you can take to manage the discomfort of a fever at home. Over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can lower fevers. Other things that can help include drinking lots of fluids, resting, and staying cool.1

Taking steps to prevent respiratory infections can also prevent fevers for people with COPD. Some steps you can take include staying up-to-date on flu and pneumonia vaccines, regularly washing your hands, and avoiding people who have cold or flu symptoms.2,3