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COPD Treatment

Complete Guide to COPD Treatment


Updated November 01, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Quitting Smoking

No More Butts

Photo © istockphoto.com user Stepan Popov

That COPD is an irreversible lung disease, speaks loudly for the importance of COPD treatment in slowing down the progression of the disease and improving quality of life.

While many medications are available to treat COPD, no drug has demonstrated effectiveness in halting the insidious progression of the disease. Rather, the goal of drug therapy at this time is to maintain control of symptoms and prevent COPD exacerbation.

The following details some basic types of COPD treatment that your doctor may use during your therapy:

Quitting Smoking

In order to prevent or slow the progression of the disease, smoking cessation is the most essential, and most commonly overlooked, aspect of COPD treatment.

In previous years, no drug has rendered itself of benefit to those who had a desire to quit smoking. Thankfully, however, this has changed, and medications are now available to assist people who want to quit. Examples are:

  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy - Including gum, inhalers, tablets, patches and nasal spray. These aids help reduce cravings, making it easier to quit.
  • Antidepressant Therapy - Taken alone or with nicotine replacement therapy, drugs used for depression, such as Wellbutrin, can also help you kick the habit.
  • Clonidine - Used primarily to treat high blood pressure, this drug is thought to be helpful in treating nicotine withdrawal symptoms for those trying to quit smoking.

Counseling and quit smoking support groups may also prove beneficial as an adjunct to medication therapy.


Those who have infection associated with COPD are commonly treated with antimicrobials, also referred to as antibiotics. Prescribing antibiotics for conditions that are not associated with a bacterial infection however, is no longer a common practice among health care providers. Most doctors will verify the presence of an infection with a blood or sputum culture. Common antimicrobials that you may see added to your treatment if you have a respiratory infection include:

  • Tetracyclines
  • Ampicillin
  • Amoxicillin
  • Bactrim

If you have been prescribed a course of antibiotics from your doctor, make sure you take the entire prescription and don't stop just because you are feeling better. Not finishing your prescription can increase the risk of resistance to the infectious organism.


Drugs in this class relax the airway wall muscles allowing you to breathe better. The following are some common bronchodilators that your doctor may prescribe:


According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), the role that corticosteroids play in the management of stable COPD is limited to specific indications due to the risk of potentially dangerous side effects. Oral corticosteroids on the other hand, are beneficial in the management of acute exacerbation of COPD as they shorten recovery time, improve lung function (FEV1), and hypoxemia. They may also decrease the possibility of early relapse, treatment failure and length of hospital stay. The following lists some common corticosteroids that your doctor may prescribe during your treatment for COPD:

  • Flovent
  • Solumedrol
  • Prednisone

Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitors

More and more, scientists are discovering that inflammation plays a starring role in many chronic illnesses, COPD included. Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) inhibitors reduce inflammation by blocking the action of PDE4, an enzyme that is overproduced in COPD and asthma causing inflammation in the lungs. PDE4s have only recently been approved for the treatment of COPD. They are administered once a day and help reduce COPD exacerbations in patients with chronic bronchitis.

Aerosol Therapy

Aerosol therapy is the process of dispensing particles of medication in a fine spray or mist by way of a nebulizer. The medications frequently used during this process are bronchodilators. Nebulized aerosols work by relieving spasms in the lungs, decreasing swelling, and making your secretions easier to cough up.

Learn how to use a nebulizer for aerosol therapy.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation offers a unique intervention for patients with COPD. It is most beneficial for those who have debilitating symptoms and whose daily activities are impaired due to the disease.

Through assessment, exercise, education and psychological support, pulmonary rehabilitation can help reduce COPD symptoms, increase participation in daily activities and reduce overall health care costs in the COPD population.

Using an interdisciplinary approach, your pulmonary rehabilitation team may be composed of specialists in the field of lung health, such as doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and psychologists. They collectively help you cope with the disease by treating all aspects of the disease from a physical, psychological and social standpoint.

For optimal results, pulmonary rehabilitation should be long enough to produce the maximum benefit without proving burdensome. While it has been observed that some patients show improvement in as little as 10 days, others have participated in the program for as long as 18 months.

Related Video
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