COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult to breathe. This lifelong condition cannot be cured, but there are several treatment options that can help manage your symptoms.
Since COPD reduces your ability to breathe, the only way to stop COPD from getting any worse is to avoid smoking at all costs. Therefore, this is usually the first step in any treatment plan for COPD. If you are finding that it is especially difficult to stop smoking, try talking to your doctor about medications that may help, such as nicotine replacement products. It is also good to avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible if you suffer from COPD.
There are many different medications that are used to treat the symptoms of COPD. Some medications are taken on a regular basis while others are only taken as needed. Some common medications include:
- Bronchodilators: This medication is usually taken in inhaler form and works to relax the muscles around your airways to relieve coughing and shortness of breath.
- Inhaled steroids: This can help reduce inflammation in the airways and prevent exacerbations.
- Combination inhalers: This is a combination of bronchodilators and inhaled steroids.
- Oral steroids: Sometimes short courses of oral cortisteroids are necessary to prevent COPD from worsening during an episode of moderate or severe acute exacerbation.
- Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors: This is a new type of medication that decreases inflammation in the airways and relaxes the airways to help improve breathing.
- Theophylline: This medication works to improve breathing and prevent exacerbations and is normally very cost effective.
- Antibiotics: Sometimes respiratory infections can develop from COPD and aggravate symptoms. This will usually require antibiotics to treat these infections and prevent COPD symptoms from getting worse.
There are some therapies that are used specifically for people who suffer from moderate or severe COPD. These include:
- Oxygen therapy: This involves using a device to deliver oxygen to your lungs if you are not getting enough oxygen in your blood.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation program: This is a combination of education, exercise, nutrition advice, and counseling to tailor a rehabilitation program that will meet your COPD treatment needs.
Even with treatment, many people with COPD will still experience periods of time when symptoms are worse for days or even weeks. This is referred to as an acute exacerbation, and it could lead to lung failure if you do not receive treatment as soon as possible. You may need additional medication, supplemental oxygen, or a stay in the hospital to manage times of acute exacerbation.
Sometimes surgery may be necessary in severe cases if your COPD is not responding to other avenues of treatment. This could include a lung volume reduction surgery, which involves removing a small wedge of damaged lung tissue from your upper lungs. Another option is a lung transplant if you meet certain criteria for organ donation.