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How is COPD Treated?

Treatments may include medications, stop-smoking programs and other interventions.

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. While there is no cure, your doctor can help you manage symptoms, so you feel better and can stay as active as possible.

Your treatment options will depend on the grade or severity of your disease. Recommendations for managing your condition may include lifestyle changes and medication, and sometimes surgical options. Here are some of them:

Stop smoking. If you are diagnosed with COPD and are still smoking, one of the first and most important things to do is stop. Counseling, nicotine replacement therapy or other tobacco cessation medicines may be helpful as you try to quit.

Environmental control. Many people with COPD notice that their symptoms get worse when they are exposed to air pollution, dust or secondhand smoke. Avoid exposure to these whenever you can.

Physical activity. Staying active may help you manage your condition. Make sure to check with your doctor before you start or add to your exercise routine. He or she can tell you what activities are safe for you. Rest frequently as needed to conserve energy for breathing and avoid extreme weather conditions.

Yearly flu shot. Get the flu shot every year and talk to your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine.

Regular doctor visit. See your doctor at least once a year to monitor your lung function. Your doctor will also want to assess how effective your treatment plan is working.

Good health habits. Eat well. Make sure you get enough sleep. Avoid people who are sick. Stay on top of managing your other conditions — if you have them — such as depression or stress.


There are a variety of medications that your doctor may prescribe to help control your COPD symptoms. Some are taken every day, while others are used when symptoms flare up. Most people with COPD take a combination of medications. Common ones include:

  • Bronchodilators. These aerosol spray inhalers are used to open and relax the lung’s air passages. Short-acting versions work quickly to relieve symptoms. Long-acting ones last 12 hours or more, taken once or twice a day as maintenance therapy. Sometimes they are given through a nebulizer, a home machine which uses a liquid drug that is inhaled as a mist.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication. Typically these corticosteroids are inhaled or taken in pill form to reduce chronic airway inflammation. Most often they are prescribed when COPD flares up and symptoms get worse. Some people take them daily to prevent flare-ups. Using oral corticosteroids is not recommended over the long haul.
  • Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE-4) inhibitor. This medicine is for people who have a history of flare-ups and chronic bronchitis. It helps reduce the flare-ups in people who take oral corticosteroids or use long-acting bronchodilators.
  • Antibiotics or antivirals. A bacterial or viral infection can cause a COPD flare-up. These medications may be prescribed to treat infections. It is important to take all of the medication even if you start feeling better, because the infection may return and be harder to treat.
  • Supplemental oxygen. Oxygen, delivered though a nose tube, is usually portable and can be taken as needed or worn all the time.

Lifestyle changes. COPD symptoms may limit your ability to do normal daily activities. Air conditioners may help improve symptoms.

Pulmonary rehab. This therapy can help you reach the highest functional level possible. The health team may include doctors, nurses, physical and respiratory therapists, dietitians and psychologists.

Surgery. For certain people with COPD, lung reduction surgery may help. It involves removing diseased and damaged regions of the lungs so normal tissue can work better. For some people who have late-stage emphysema, lung transplantation may be an option.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. Pocket guide to COPD diagnosis, management and prevention: A guide for health care professionals. Accessed: January 11, 2016.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is COPD? Accessed: January 11, 2016.
American Lung Association. Learn about COPD. Accessed: January 11, 2016.
National Jewish Health. Bronchodilator medications for COPD. Accessed: January 11, 2016.

Last Updated: January 11, 2016