When you have COPD, the twin goals of avoiding flare-ups and improving your overall lung function should set the tone for each day, whether your COPD symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe. Nothing is more important than helping yourself breathe better, feel better, and live better right now. But to do that, you need to forge a good partnership with your doctor or pulmonary specialist so you can learn everything there is to know about COPD therapies.
Fortunately, there are lots of different COPD treatment options that can help improve your symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and minimize exacerbations.
Whether your treatment program includes medications, rehabilitation, or other therapies, follow your doctor’s instructions closely. And talk to your doctor if your COPD symptoms are not adequately controlled.
Here’s a primer on some of the most common COPD therapies:
Bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids are two medications available for COPD treatment. Bronchodilators provide inhaled medication that can help you breathe better by relaxing the muscles surrounding your airways. Inhaled corticosteroids are thought to help quell inflammation in the airways but are most often prescribed to patients with severe COPD to help reduce and treat exacerbations. However, some controversy exists as to whether inhaled corticosteroids should be used routinely or just short-term, for flare ups.
Combination inhaled medications that contain both a bronchodilator and a corticosteroid also are available.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation — a type of therapy that includes respiratory exercises and physical activities designed to strengthen breathing muscles and enhance overall lung and exercise capacity. Research shows that when lung and exercise capacity improve, it can decrease shortness of breath, counter general fatigue, and reduce the anxiety and depression that sometimes accompany COPD.
So ask your doctor to refer you to a respiratory therapist who can design an in-home pulmonary rehabilitation program. Your therapist can also teach you in-home breathing techniques and activity modifications that make it easier to go about your day.
If your blood and tissue levels of oxygen have become too low, your doctor may suggest oxygen therapy, in which oxygen is administered regularly from a portable tank or machine. It may be routine or for just a few hours a day. This treatment may help with shortness of breath, and research shows that oxygen therapy can make it easier to perform daily activities and tasks, may improve sleep, and may have significant benefits for organ health and overall longevity.
In very severe or advanced cases of COPD, when other therapies no longer help, surgery is sometimes considered, during which oversized air pockets or damaged or nonfunctioning lung tissue is removed. Or the entire organ may be replaced. All surgeries carry the risk of serious complications, and you should discuss these thoroughly with your doctor before considering a surgical option.