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Treatments for COPD

Thursday 25 June 2020
6 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is COPD?

a.  Symptoms

II. Diagnosing COPD

III. Lifestyle Changes

IV. Medications

V. Oxygen Therapy

VI. Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

What is COPD?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a respiratory condition that affects airflow to the lungs. There are over 16 million people in the United States with this condition, but scientists believe there are millions more who do not know they have this disease. COPD is an umbrella term for several disorders, most commonly chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. [2] 

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi. These tubes are vital in carrying air to and from the air sacs into the lungs. When these tubes become irritated, excess mucus builds up and can lead to long-term coughing. [1] Emphysema involves damage to the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs). These air sacs become stretched out, making it more challenging to move air in and out of the lungs. Both of these conditions can significantly impact everyday activities. Luckily, there are many medications like Flovent (fluticasone) and therapies to improve symptoms. [2] 

a. Symptoms

Even though COPD encompasses more than one disorder, the symptoms are generally similar. Unfortunately, symptoms of COPD often do not present themselves until damage to the lung has occurred. Symptoms of COPD include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Swelling in feet, legs, or ankles
  • Frequent respiratory infections

cigarettes next to broccoli

These symptoms can make even the simplest activity difficult, so it is important to seek help from your doctor if you have trouble breathing. COPD is caused by many things, but most typically, cigarette smoking as well as exposure to chemical irritants. Read on to learn more about the treatment options available for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. [3]

Diagnosing COPD

It may take some time for COPD to be diagnosed because its symptoms are fairly vague and indicative of several lung disorders. Your doctor will have to closely examine your symptoms and medical history to determine if COPD is the root of your respiratory problems. Your doctor will also perform a combination of the following tests:

Pulmonary Function Tests: Lung function tests measure the amount of air that you can inhale and exhale. It also measures how much oxygen your lungs can get into the bloodstream. You may also take a spirometry test, which involves blowing as hard as you can into a large tube connected to a machine that measures the lung's air capacity.

Chest X-Ray: If you are experiencing emphysema, then a chest x-ray can see damage to the lungs. X-rays also can rule out other lung problems or heart failure.

Arterial Blood Gas Analysis: This is a blood test that measures how well your lungs can bring oxygen to the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide.

Laboratory Tests: Lab tests are vital in COPD diagnosis because they help doctors rule out other causes of your respiratory problems. Lab tests determine if you may possess genetic disorders or deficiencies that result in breathing problems. [3] 

Lifestyle Changes

Quit Smoking: Smoking irritates the lungs and can make your COPD progress more rapidly. Smoking can lead to complications like hypertension, heart disease, stroke, or cancer. One five-year study in China found that COPD patients who quit smoking significantly increase their lifespan. If you are trying to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about treatment methods. [4]

Get Moving: Those with chronic lung disorders may think they cannot participate in exercise, but that is not true. If you spend most of your time sitting around and watching TV, your COPD is not going to improve. When you participate in physical activity, you can improve your cardiac health and respiratory health. If your COPD is severe, you can participate in interval training, which involves exercises that increase your heart rate to 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Switch Up Your Diet: Your diet can directly impact your respiratory condition in the case of COPD. It is important to keep your BMI (body mass index) in a healthy range, so your respiratory system does not have to work as hard. If you eat lots of junk food and remain inactive, you may gain weight and increase the severity of your breathing difficulties. One study by the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease found that increasing your daily fruit consumption by 100 milligrams can reduce your risk of mortality by 24 percent over 20 years. [4]

fruits and vegetables


Several medications can be used to help treat symptoms of COPD. If you have COPD, you will likely need to take medications daily to control symptoms. In most cases, your doctor will prescribe a rescue inhaler for quick-relief of breathing problems and a long-term inhaler. [5]

Bronchodilators are one type of inhaler that can relieve shortness of breath and prevent coughing. This type of inhaler can come in short-acting or long-acting forms. You may also need to take inhaled corticosteroids like Flovent. These corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation of the airways and reducing the risk of exacerbations. Flovent comes in the form of Flovent HFA (aerosolized form) and Flovent Diskus (powder form), but both work effectively in improving COPD symptoms.

Antibiotics may also be necessary for the treatment of COPD. It is vital to practice effective personal hygiene and wash your hands regularly to lower your risk of contracting viruses and influenza. Those who have chronic bronchitis are at higher risk of developing respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu. If you develop an infection of the lungs, you may be prescribed antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body. [5]

Oxygen Therapy

If you have more advanced COPD, you may need long-term oxygen therapy. Advanced COPD often results in low levels of oxygen in the blood, resulting in accompanying illnesses and heart problems. You may need oxygen therapy in the following situations:

During Exercise: Blood oxygen levels drop during exercise, so oxygen therapy during exercise can boost your physical activity and reduce shortness of breath.

During Sleep: During sleep, your body slows down and doesn't require as much oxygen. If you have a chronic breathing disorder, you are more likely to develop sleep apnea and other breathing disorders. You may need oxygen therapy during sleep to make sure your already reduced oxygen levels do not dip further during sleep.

Air Travel: If you have low oxygen levels and COPD, you may need oxygen when you fly. The oxygen level in airplanes is about the same as the oxygen level at an 8000 ft elevation. This can affect many people with breathing problems. Those with COPD must plan ahead before air travel. [6]

an airplane

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are helpful for those living with COPD. These programs involve exercise training, nutrition advice, and counseling. Those with chronic breathing problems may have trouble doing the simplest activity, so these programs can give COPD patients the tools to perform daily activities efficiently.

If you have the learning tools to manage your COPD, your rate of hospital visits can also be significantly reduced. Counseling is also a vital part of pulmonary rehab because anxiety and depression may occur with this disease. Pulmonary rehabilitation can also provide classes and counselors to help manage stress and teach relaxation techniques. [7] 

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.