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What are the treatment options for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

With chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the damage done to your lungs is irreversible. Treatments available for COPD are designed to slow the diseases progression, control the symptoms and reduce complications. The most important step is to quit smoking and avoid air pollutants like secondhand smoke. Inhaled bronchodilators may be prescribed to relieve airflow obstruction. In advanced COPD, inhaled steroids can improve symptoms when other drugs fail. Long-term oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation programs can help improve your daily quality of life. For advanced COPD, lung volume reduction surgery or a lung transplant may also be recommended on a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Brian D. Gelbman, MD
Pulmonary Disease Specialist

Treatment options for COPD include three classes of inhaled medications that open airways, reduce secretions and reduce inflammation; in severe cases, oxygen therapy is advised. Watch pulmonologist Brian Gelbman, MD, explain these treatment options.

The treatment options for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease vary depending on the severity of the disease, which can be determined by breathing tests done in the office. For people who deal with COPD every day, initial treatments usually involve inhalers such as ipratropium and/or albuterol to open up the airways. If the severity increases, the next step is often an inhaler containing a steroid and a long-acting dilator for airway dilation. Patients may eventually require oxygen supplementation at home as well. During exacerbations that may require hospitalization, oral steroids and antibiotics may also be needed.

Dr. Jennifer N. Caudle, DO
Family Practitioner

Treatment options for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) include medications, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy and lifestyle changes (quit smoking). Watch family medicine physician Jennifer Caudle, DO, discuss treatments for COPD.

There are a number of drugs and treatment options for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms, especially breathlessness.

The most commonly used groups of medicines are bronchodilators, and sometimes anti-inflammatory agents. These medicines usually come as an inhaler so the medicine gets straight into the lungs. Bronchodilators help the muscles in the airways to relax and open up. Some people with COPD may need antibiotics if they get a chest infection. Vaccinations can help prevent infections happening in the first place. There’s also inhaled oxygen therapy, which can be helpful for those with COPD who are very short of breath.

In addition to medicines, there are other ways to help with COPD, like pulmonary rehabilitation with specialists called physiotherapists or respiratory therapists. They teach exercises and breathing control techniques to help people breathe more calmly. A healthy diet and exercise are also important.

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Once you're diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your doctor will prescribe treatments based on the severity of your condition. "Rescue" medications relieve symptoms quickly, while "controller" medications reduce inflammation on a long-term basis. If your COPD is severe, you may also need oxygen therapy. This is typically used at night to compensate for the drop in oxygen levels that occurs when breathing slows during sleep. Oxygen is inhaled via nasal tubes and maintains the body's oxygen level, reducing stress on the heart.

Pulmonary rehabilitation also is important and can help you work with the lungs you have. Breathing techniques can help train patients to use their abdominal muscles to force their diaphragm (the muscle separating the chest and abdominal cavities) upward, emptying the lungs more effectively.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.