Fluid-containing emphysematous bullae are an under-reported complication of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The roles of bronchoscopy in the work-up and of antibiotics in the treatment are undefined. This study reports the combined results from the analysis of 16 cases treated at the present authors' institution and 36 previously reported cases. The median age at presentation was 58 yrs and the median duration of follow-up was 60 weeks. A third of the patients were asymptomatic, while two-thirds presented with symptoms, including 10% who had evidence of a severe lung infection. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Bacteroides melaninogenicus were cultured from the bullae fluid in three symptomatic patients. Sputum and blood cultures were uninformative. Bronchoscopy, performed in two-thirds of the cases, added no diagnostic information. Antibiotic treatment did not result in a more rapid resolution of the air fluid level. Percutaneous drainage was safe and effective in four patients. In conclusion, patients with fluid-containing bullae present with a spectrum of illness. Antibiotic treatment does not hasten radiographic resolution and bronchoscopy has no diagnostic or therapeutic role.