Exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are important events in the natural history of this prevalent and devastating condition. This review provides a concise, state of the art summary on prevention and management of exacerbations. Considerable new data underpins evidence in support of many preventative interventions, pharmacological and non-pharmacological, that are now available. Challenges remain in developing new approaches, and delivering those that already exist to the right patient at the right time. Management of an exacerbation remains stepwise according to clinical severity, but there is now additional focus on addressing comorbidities and taking the opportunity at acute events to optimise preventative strategies for the future. Ultimately, exacerbations are heterogeneous events in a heterogeneous disease, and an individualised approach is paramount.