Understanding Common COPD Medications and Therapies

Treatments That Can Help You Breathe Easier

If you are a person living with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or if you are a caregiver to someone who has the condition, learning all you can about common COPD medications is essential to managing the illness.

Here is an explanation of common COPD medications:

COPD Medications - Bronchodilators

FDA Considering Ban Of Non-Prescription Asthma Inhalers. Credit: David McNew / Staff / Getty Images

Patients who have COPD are often prescribed medications called bronchodilators. Bronchodilators are usually inhalers. They work by relaxing and expanding the smooth muscle of the airways, making it easier to breathe. Depending on how severe your COPD is, you may be prescribed a short-acting or a long-acting bronchodilator. Short-acting bronchodilators last four to six hours and are used only when you need them. Long-acting bronchodilators last 12 hours or more and you should use them every day. Which bronchodilator will work best for you?

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Steroid drug abuse. Credit: Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

If you have COPD, your doctor may have prescribed glucocorticoids as part of your treatment plan. These inhaled steroids usually aren't prescribed on their own. Doctors usually combine them with bronchodilators in patients with severe COPD or frequent flare-ups. While glucocorticoids have many benefits, they also have serious risks and side effects. Are you aware of the risks and benefits associated with the use of glucocorticoids?

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Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitors

FDA Considers Banning Cox-2 Inhibitors Celebrex And Bextra. Credit: Tim Boyle / Staff / Getty Images

It's becoming increasingly evident that inflammation plays a major role in COPD and many other chronic illnesses. Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) inhibitors block the action of PDE4, an enzyme that is overproduced in COPD and asthma causing inflammation in the lungs. Discover more about this class of COPD medication.

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Publix First To Offer Free Antibiotics To Customers. Credit: Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

People with COPD are more prone to bacterial lung infections than most. And, if you have a bacterial lung infection, then chances are your doctor will have prescribed you an antibiotic. Learn more about antibiotic therapy and how your doctor tells the difference between a simple virus and a bacterial lung infection.

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Supplemental Oxygen

UK, Portrait of elderly man wearing oxygen tube. Credit: Michael Warren / Getty Images

Has your doctor recently prescribed supplemental oxygen as part of your COPD treatment plan? If so, you may be wondering why you need it, and more importantly, how you should use it. Oxygen therapy can help you do tasks or activities with fewer symptoms, protect your organs (including your heart) from damage, sleep better and feel more alert in the day and even live a longer life. Learn the benefits of oxygen therapy if you have COPD and how to use your oxygen safely.

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Influenza Vaccines

Pharmacist giving customer flu shot. Credit: Terry Vine / Getty Images

Influenza, or flu, vaccines don't just help prevent the flu. They can also help COPD patients fight off potential exacerbations or flare-ups. These are periods of time when your COPD may worsen. According to estimates, most exacerbations - up to 80 percent - of COPD are caused by respiratory infections. Learn how the flu shot can help prevent COPD exacerbations.

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Pneumonia Vaccines

Middle Eastern female doctor giving shot to patient. Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

People with COPD are at greater risk for developing pneumococcal pneumonia, a serious lung infection that kills 1 out of every 20 people who get it. And, even if you have already had a pneumonia vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that certain high-risk groups have a second dose. Are you among the high-risk group? 


The Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease. Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Updated 2011.

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