10 Ways to Treat COPD
Treatments and medication for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) range from simple breathing exercises to medications and even surgery. COPD occurs when the airways and air sacs in the lungs become inflamed or damaged, most often due to smoking, and is more common after age 45.
To determine if you have COPD, your doctor is likely to conduct some tests, including spirometry, which involves inhaling as deeply as you can and exhaling into a tube.
Inhalers or nebulizers
If your doctor has prescribed medications for COPD—like an inhaler or nebulizer—make sure you know how to use them and take them as prescribed. Most people find that medicines make breathing easier, keep flare-ups to a minimum, and control coughing and wheezing. These include bronchodilators, which are drugs that open up the airways and make it easier to breathe.
Bronchodilators come in several varieties. One of the most common, albuterol, is a beta2-agonist that is short-acting and used as a "quick fix" for shortness of breath. People who have all stages of COPD severity keep a short-acting inhaler on hand in case of emergencies. Albuterol is sold in inhalers or as a liquid that can be used in a nebulizer, a machine that creates a fine mist that is inhaled. Examples of brand names are Proventil, Ventolin, and Volmax.
There are also long-acting beta2-agonists, such as salmeterol (Serevent), and Advair, which is a combination of salmeterol and a corticosteroid called fluticasone. Like roflumilast, these long-acting bronchodilators, which are inhaled every 12 hours, are considered maintenance therapy.
Opening up the airways
Anticholinergic bronchodilators can, in some cases, open up the airways even more. One example, tiotropium (Spiriva), also dries up and decreases mucous production.
Oxygen may be prescribed by your doctor for managing advanced cases of COPD. It can be delivered to your home in tanks, or it can be produced by a machine called an oxygen concentrator. Oxygen can come as a gas or a liquid, and how often you get treated is a matter of how advanced your lung disease is and how much trouble you have breathing without assistance.
Changing the way you breathe can ease shortness of breath.
Pursed-lip breathing "is like breathing through a straw," says Dr. Norman Edelman of the American Lung Association. "It can reduce the tendency for airways to collapse."
Inhale through your nose for about four seconds. Then exhale through your mouth for six to eight seconds, with your lips almost closed. This will help you breathe out more air, making room in your lungs for your next deep breath.
Healthy eating can be helpful in treating COPD.
"The emphysema patient tends to be thin, very short of breath, and frequently malnourished," says Dr. Edelman. "It is a hypermetabolic state, and they burn a lot of calories, and the diaphragm is pressing on their stomach and they can’t really fill up."
The bronchitis patient on the other hand may be overweight, which places an extra burden on the lungs, he says.
Both subsets of COPD patients should follow healthy diet guidelines, but the severely underweight may need to beef up their diet with supplemental shakes, says Dr. Edelman.
If you have COPD, you need to get a flu vaccine every year. When people with COPD get the flu, it often turns into something more serious, like pneumonia. A flu vaccine can help prevent this from happening.
Also, getting regular flu vaccines may lower your chances of having COPD flare-ups.
People with COPD often get pneumonia. Getting a shot can help keep you from getting very ill with pneumonia. Usually, people need only one shot, but doctors sometimes recommend a second shot for some people who got their first shot before they turned 65. Talk with your doctor about whether you need a second shot.