If you are diagnosed with COPD, know some treatments can help manage the disease and slow the progression. If the disease is caught early, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to be used for emergencies and order you to quit smoking. There are very effective treatments to manage advanced COPD in later stages. The important thing is to follow your treatment plan decided by you and your doctor. Treatments include:
Quit smoking. The number one first line of treatment to start with is to quit smoking if you do smoke, don’t start smoking and avoid all forms of second-hand smoke. If you have COPD or are at high-risk you should not smoke or be near smoke. Talk to the doctor about getting help with quitting.
Medications. If necessary, your doctor will prescribe medications to help improve your breathing and decrease your cough. Medications are not a cure for COPD, but they can make you more comfortable and improve your lung function and help prevent complications.
Inhaled bronchodilators. Inhaled bronchodilators can help to relax and open up the airways. They help improve your breathing and reduce your cough. Some people only need a short-acting inhaler before and after physical activity, and/or the doctor can add something more long-acting to relieve your symptoms for the whole day. They come in two forms: an inhaler, and a nebulizer machine.
Steroid inhalers. Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatories and do not work to increase breathing right away but can work overtime to reduce the inflammation in the airways. Steroid inhalers put the steroid right on the lung tissue and over time can relieve symptoms of COPD. Used early on in the disease, they can help slow the progression.
They do have sideeffects that include fungal infections in the mouth, easy bruising, and a hoarse voice.
Combination medications. The doctor can prescribe an inhaler that uses both steroids to reduce inflammation and a bronchodilator to open the airways.
Corticosteroids (oral). For acute attacks of COPD, the doctor may choose to give you an oral steroid for the short-term to rapidly reduce the inflammation and make your breathing better over a week. These are only used if necessary and never for long periods due to the risk of sideeffects that include bone thinning, risk of infection, high blood sugar, and weight gain. People who use oral steroids often are at increased risk of death due to COPD.
Theophylline. This medication can help open up the airways by relaxing the muscles in the lungs, lessening response to things that irritate the airways, and increases the flow of air. Some side-effects include headache, shakiness, rapid heart rate, nausea, and headache. The lower the dose the fewer side-effects.
PDE-4 inhibitors (phosphodiesterase-4). These medications inhibit the cells in the immune system that break down lung tissue. They are most often used in chronic bronchitis type COPD that has severe symptoms. They help reduce inflammation in the lungs and improve airflow. The side-effects include weight loss and diarrhea.
Antibiotics. People may get repeated bacterial infections along with COPD that can worsen the condition. In cases of pneumonia, acute bronchitis, or even influenza (virus) the doctor may choose to place you on antibiotics. In the case of them being used in viral infections, it is thought that antibiotics may help relieve the inflammation.
Oxygen. In severe cases when oxygen levels fall below 90%, you may need to be on supplemental oxygen. Some people only need oxygen at night or during physical activity, or some need oxygen around the clock. Pulmonary function studies will tell the doctor how often and how much oxygen you will need.
Pulmonary rehab. You may need a special type of physical therapy to help you learn how to take care of yourself with COPD. They will teach you exercises that will help you improve your lung capacity, give you dietary advice, and how to do physical activities without losing too much oxygen or energy.
Surgical intervention. In severe cases, there are a few types of surgery that can help improve lung function. These include:
Lung volume reduction. The surgeon will remove some of the damaged tissue and make more space for the healthy part of the lungs to work better.
Lung Transplant. Some people qualify for a healthy lung transplant that can improve their quality of life and help them breathe better. Risks of lung transplant includerejection, infection, bleeding, and the need for immunosuppressants for life.