Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

Care & Treatment

Although there is no cure for COPD, there are many things you can do to ease symptoms, slow the disease, prevent flare-ups and infections, and maintain your independence and quality of life.

Treatment Starts Here: Stop Smoking

If you have COPD, you must stop smoking. No other treatment slows the lung damage more than stopping smoking. Research has found that kicking the habit reduces the risk of dying from COPD, no matter how old you are or how advanced your disease is.

There are a number of excellent programs and aids to help you stop smoking. Your healthcare provider can help you find the best, most effective approach to suit your needs. Remember that most people try several times before they successfully quit smoking, so don’t give up!

Medications that Help

There are medications that allow you to breathe more easily and reduce your symptoms.  Some are taken by mouth and some are inhaled. They include:


Bronchodilators are usually inhaled medications that relax the muscles around your airways to let more air through and make breathing easier. Bronchodilators may be short-acting, meaning they start working quickly and wear off quickly. These are often called “rescue inhalers” to be used when you are having symptoms such as wheezing, cough or shortness of breath. Long-acting bronchodilators start working more slowly and last longer. They are used every day to improve symptoms. Your provider may recommend both a short-acting and a long-acting bronchodilator. Examples include:

Short-acting bronchodilators

  • Albuterol
  • Levalbuterol
  • Ipratropium

Long-acting bronchodilators

  • Salmeterol
  • Formoterol
  • Indacaterol
  • Tiotropium
  • Umeclidinium
Correct use of inhalers is important to get the benefits. Only 60% of older adults use inhalers correctly. This is partly because because problems like arthritis or diseases that affect strength and coordination, like Parkinson’s disease or stroke, can make it difficult to properly use inhalers. A tube-like device called a spacer can be placed on the inhaler to make it easier to use and help make sure that you are receiving the full dose of the medication. Ask your healthcare provider to observe whether you are using your inhaler correctly.


Steroids help reduce inflammation in the airways and prevent flare-ups of COPD. Inhaled steroids are usually used for COPD. Examples include:

  • Fluticasone
  • Budesonide
  • Mometasone
  • Beclomethasone

If you have a sudden flare-up or worsening of COPD symptoms, your healthcare provider may prescribe a short course of steroid pills, such as prednisone. Long-term use of steroid pills is avoided because these medications have many side effects, including osteoporosis, cataracts, diabetes, and infections.  

Oxygen Therapy

If the oxygen levels in your blood are too low, you may need extra (supplemental) oxygen delivered through a face mask or small tubes in your nose. Some people only need extra oxygen with activity or while sleeping. Other people need it all the time. Supplemental oxygen can allow you to exercise more, to do more activities at home or when you go out, and feel more comfortable carrying out your daily routine. Oxygen has even been shown to help some people with COPD live longer. There are several devices available now that are lightweight and portable, making it easier to be active and independent.

Respiratory (Pulmonary) Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs combines exercise training, education, and counseling to help you live better with COPD. These programs can 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. Research has also shown that in people who are having a flare-up of COPD, pulmonary rehabilitation can reduce the risk of being hospitalized.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs may be done at home or in a rehabilitation center or clinic. Programs typically involve several sessions per week for about 6 weeks.


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 major surgery.


Last Updated August 2020