The efficacy of mask-applied continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) in the treatment of patients with acute severe exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was examined. Ten patients with severe exacerbation of COPD who had deteriorated during conventional therapy were treated with face-mask delivered CPAP (+5 cmH2O; Downs Vital signs Inc., New Jersey, USA) instead of tracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation. The patients that were selected required mental alertness, intact upper airway reflexes, the clinical signs of dynamic hyperinflation and a positive end-expiratory pressure auto-(PEEP) manifested as expiratory wheeze and grunting. Nine out of 10 patients responded promptly to mask-CPAP with less distress, better oxygenation, lower respiratory and pulse rates. There was no significant change in arterial carbon dioxide tension with mask-CPAP treatment. One patient deteriorated on mask-CPAP and required intubation and mechanical ventilation. Three patients died (none of these patients died during the acute period of exacerbation). It was concluded that Mask-CPAP may be an alternative to mechanical ventilation in the treatment of selected patients with severe hypercapnic exacerbations of COPD.