BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE Acute exacerbations of cystic fibrosis (CF) occur frequently throughout the course of the disease. Dyspnoea is the most common and distressing symptom experienced by patients during these episodes. We tested the hypothesis that pulmonary hyperinflation is an important determinant of dyspnoea severity during acute exacerbations. METHODS We studied patients during an acute exacerbation of CF. Lung volumes, spirometry and dyspnoea scores were measured at Day 0, Day 7, at the end of treatment (EOT) and 14 days following the EOT. RESULTS At the start of treatment, mean residual volume (RV)/total lung capacity (TLC) was 54.9%, which decreased significantly with treatment, as did vital capacity (VC), inspiratory capacity (IC) and dyspnoea scores. IC was the only independent predictor of dyspnoea severity. CONCLUSION Our study demonstrates significant improvements in hyperinflation, spirometry and dyspnoea scores with treatment of acute exacerbations of CF. Hyperinflation, rather than airflow limitation, may contribute towards the increased dyspnoea during exacerbations.