The antimicrobial guidance recommends that antibiotics should be offered to people who have a severe flare up of symptoms, also known as a severe acute exacerbation.
However other factors should be taken into account when considering the use of antibiotics for treating an acute exacerbation that is not severe, such as the number and severity of symptoms.
The guidance notes that acute exacerbations of COPD can be caused by a range of factors including viral infections and smoking. Only around half are caused by bacterial infections, so many exacerbations will not respond to antibiotics.
Paul Chrisp, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE, said: “Evidence shows that there are limited benefits of using antibiotics for managing acute exacerbations of COPD and that it is important to take other options into account before antibiotics are prescribed.
"These recommendations will help healthcare professionals to make responsible prescribing decisions, which will not only help people manage their condition but also reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance.”
The other clinical guideline update, published today, states when to use antibiotics to prevent exacerbations happening in the first place (antibiotic prophylaxis). It recommends that antibiotics used in this way should only be offered to people who are most likely to benefit from them.
Dr Andrew Molyneux, chair of the COPD update committee, said: “COPD is a common and life-threatening illness, causing 115,000 admissions to hospital every year. For some people who have frequent exacerbations, prophylactic antibiotics can help to reduce the frequency of exacerbations and admissions to hospital. However, the benefits of prophylactic antibiotics needs to be balanced against the potential for more antibiotic resistance.”
COPD is a broad term that covers several lung conditions that make breathing difficult. Some people experience flare-ups where their symptoms are particularly severe, these are called exacerbations.
COPD affects approximately 3 million people in the UK, 2 million of which are undiagnosed.
This news story was updated on 5 December 2018 - it was originally published in July when draft guidelines were released.