Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

COPD treatment

A diagnosis of COPD is not necessarily a cause for immediate alarm. Most people have a mild form of COPD that can be treated simply by not smoking or avoiding exposure to lung irritants. For more advanced stages of COPD, different therapies can help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of developing complications and exacerbations.

If you’re a smoker with COPD, the only way to keep the disease from getting worse is to stop smoking and to avoid secondhand smoke.

Quitting is not easy, but your provider can help you find nicotine replacement products, medications, or a support group with other people trying to quit smoking.

Providers use several kinds of medications to treat24 the symptoms and complications of COPD. You may take some medications regularly and others as needed.

  • Bronchodilators make breathing easier by widening the airways and relaxing the lungs’ muscles.25

The type of bronchodilators you might need will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Short-acting bronchodilators offer immediate relief from sudden attacks of breathlessness. Long-acting bronchodilators are used regularly to manage symptoms, usually once or twice a day.

  • Inhaled corticosteroids26 reduce airway inflammation and help prevent exacerbations. They work by preventing the cells in the lungs and airways from releasing substances that cause inflammation.

Corticosteroids are sometimes combined with bronchodilators. They are also frequently used to treat asthma attacks. Corticosteroids can be administered by inhaler, injection, or pill.

  • Antibiotics can treat respiratory infections such as the flu, pneumonia, and acute bronchitis, all of which may worsen the symptoms of COPD. Antibiotics are particularly effective27 for patients with severe COPD exacerbations. Moderate or severe COPD may require oxygen therapy28, a type of treatment that supplies extra oxygen from a tank or portable device. Oxygen therapy may be temporary or long-term, depending on the severity of your condition. This treatment can help you stay active and remain comfortable during everyday activities.

Pulmonary rehabilitation29 programs are an important option for the treatment of COPD. These programs combine education and exercise to help you better understand and ease the symptoms of your disease.

A rehabilitation team includes healthcare providers, physical therapists, dieticians, and counselors who can tailor your program to meet your needs. Talk to your provider to learn more about pulmonary rehabilitation or to find programs near you.

In some people with severe emphysema, healthcare providers may suggest lung surgery to improve symptoms. Surgical30 options for COPD include:

  • Bullectomy is a procedure that removes large air sacs (bullae) from the lungs to improve breathing. Bullae31 are formed from hundreds of destroyed alveoli as a complication from emphysema.
  • Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) reduces the size of the lungs by removing portions of diseased lung tissue. LVRS creates space for the healthier portion of your lungs to perform better.
  • Lung transplants are only recommended if your lung damage is beyond repair and if you meet specific criteria. A lung transplant can improve your ability to breathe and stay active. Over 70%32 of lung transplants for COPD patients are double lung transplants; the rest are single lung transplants.

Lung transplants are major operations with significant risks, including the possibility that your immune system might reject the donor organ. Before a lung transplant, a patient will have to wait for the right match of donor lungs to become available.

At-home treatment for COPD

If you have COPD, you can take the following steps to feel better and help slow damage to your lungs:

  • Breathing control exercises can help ease33 certain COPD symptoms, such as breathlessness and fatigue. Your provider or respiratory therapist can teach you techniques that allow you to breathe more efficiently.
  • Clearing your airways can help clear the mucus in your air passages. Controlled coughing, using a humidifier, and drinking plenty of fluids may help.
  • Regular exercise can strengthen your respiratory muscles and improve your endurance. Ask your provider about which physical activities would be best for you.
  • Avoid smoke and air pollution, which can irritate your lungs.

COPD medication

May be prescribed

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COPD life expectancy

It’s hard to predict how much COPD will impact your life expectancy. People with COPD have an increased risk of mortality34 compared to those who do not; this risk also depends on your overall health and whether you have other diseases.

Smokers with COPD have a larger reduction in life expectancy than nonsmokers with COPD. If you do smoke, the progression of COPD will slow if you stop.

At age 65, the reduction in life expectancy in male smokers with stages 3 or 4 COPD ranges from 5.9–9 years. In comparison, for male non-smokers aged 65 with stages 3 or 4 COPD, the reduction in life expectancy was 1.3–1.9 years.

COPD also progresses more quickly if you’re exposed to chemical fumes and dust in the workplace. If you work in this type of environment35, talk to your supervisor about ways to get rid of the hazard and what you can do to protect yourself.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.