Aging & Health A to Z
Care & Treatment
There are many things you can do to ease symptoms of COPD, slow the rate at which the disease worsens, prevent infections, and maintain your independence.
Treatment Starts Here: Stop Smoking
If you have COPD, you must stop smoking. This is the best way to slow lung damage. Research has found that kicking the habit actually reduces the risk of dying from COPD, no matter how old you are or the stage of your illness.
A number of excellent smoking cessation programs and aids are now available. Your healthcare professional can help you find the best, most effective approach to suit your needs.
Medications that Help
Medications allow you to breathe more easily and reduce your symptoms. Some are taken by mouth and some are inhaled. They include
- Bronchodilators: Drugs like beta agonists (albuterol, salbutamol, terbutaline, salmeterol, formoterol) and anticholinergics (ipratropium, tiotropium) relax the muscles around your airways, allowing them to expand and let more air through. These drugs are inhaled through a nebulizer or inhaler. They can be long or short-acting and are often prescribed together.
- Steroids: The corticosteroids (prednisolone, fluticasone, budesonide, mometasone, beclomethasone) reduce inflammation. This helps reduce the swelling in the walls of your airways and enlarges the inner space, allowing air to flow more freely. They may also slow down lung damage. They are taken in pill or inhaled form.
There are several ways to get extra oxygen if the oxygen levels in your blood are low. Supplements of oxygen can allow you to carry out more activities at home or when you go out, exercise more, and feel more comfortably carrying out your daily routine. Researchers have found that breathing extra oxygen for 16 hours or more each day improves your survival time if you tend to have very low blood oxygen levels to start with.
There are several ways to get extra oxygen if your blood oxygen levels are low:
- from an oxygen tank, which can supply oxygen for many hours.
- from an oxygen concentrator, which is lightweight, easy to move around, and has no tank, but can only last a few hours.
The oxygen is delivered either through a face mask, or via tubes (called nasal cannula) that fit comfortably in your nose.
Respiratory (pulmonary) Rehabilitation
Programs have been developed that help train you to breathe more easily and give you more energy. Other benefits include a feeling of being more in control of your disease and your emotions.
Ask your healthcare professional to recommend a program that is right for you. These programs can be done at home or in rehab center, doctor’s office, or clinic. A typical program will last about six weeks, with several hours of attendance per week.
Pulmonary rehabilitation includes:
- physical exercises (as well as breathing exercises and techniques)
- education in disease management
- nutritional guidance
- training in the most energy efficient ways to function in your daily routine.
You should get an annual flu shot as well as a vaccination against pneumonia (pneumococcal vaccine). These will reduce the chance of a severe COPD flare-up because of a serious lung infection.
For a few people, surgery may be helpful. Removing badly damaged lung tissue may allow more healthy parts of your lungs to function better or to expand and replace the parts that have been removed.
A lung transplant may be an option in some cases, especially for younger COPD patients who can safely undergo this surgery.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012