There is a lack of emphasis on health-related QOL (HR-QOL) changes associated with acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis (CB) or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The aim of this review is to examine the use of HR-QOL instruments to evaluate acute exacerbation of CB or COPD, so as to form recommendations for future research.A literature search of papers published between 1966 and July 2003 identified more than 300 articles that used acute exacerbation of CB or COPD as the search term. However, only 21 of these studies employed HR-QOL measures as predictors of outcome or in the assessment of the impact, evolution or treatment of acute exacerbations of COPD or CB. A variety of HR-QOL measures were used, both generic and disease specific. The disease-specific St George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ), devised for patients with stable CB and with a recall period of 1-12 months, was the most widely used measure, with the Chronic Respiratory disease Questionnaire (CRQ) and the Baseline and Transitional Dyspnoea Index (BDI, TDI) being the only other disease-specific measures used. Most measures, both generic and disease specific, performed adequately when used during acute exacerbation of CB or COPD and indicated poor HR-QOL during acute exacerbation, which improved on resolution of the exacerbation. Relationships were evident between HR-QOL during an acute exacerbation and various outcomes, including post-exacerbation functional status, hospital re- admission for acute exacerbation or COPD, and mortality. There is a need for studies of treatments for acute exacerbation of CB or COPD to include an appropriate HR-QOL instrument to aid in the stratification of patients so as to target the right treatment to the right patient group. While a new instrument could be developed to measure HR-QOL during acute exacerbation of CB or COPD, currently available disease-specific measures such as the CRQ and the SGRQ appear to be acceptable to patients during acute exacerbation. However, the recall period of the SGRQ symptoms component should be shortened to make it more appropriate for use during acute exacerbation.