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COPD Treatment

COPD treatments will control signs and symptoms, reduce your risk of exacerbations and complications, and improve your overall health and ability to lead a normal active life.

If your doctor hasn’t told you yet, there is no cure for COPD, and you can’t undo the damage that has occurred to your lungs.

Stop smoking

The most basic, essential approach in any treatment plan for smokers with COPD is to stop all smoking. This is the only effective approach to preventing COPD from worsening, which can one day result in you losing the ability to breathe. We all know quitting smoking is never easy. This task may seem particularly difficult if you’ve tried to quit in the past. Talk to your respiratory therapist and physician about medicines and nicotine replacement products that will help you.

Medications

Physicians use several basic groups of drugs to treat the complications and symptoms and signs of COPD. You may take some medications as needed and others on a regular basis:
• Bronchodilators. These medications, usually in inhaler form, relax the muscles around the airways in your lungs. This helps to relieve shortness of breath and coughing and makes breathing easier. According to the stage of your disease, you may require a long-acting inhaled medication that you use each day, or a short-acting bronchodilator before activities or both.

• Inhaled steroids. These medications are termed inhaled corticosteroid and can decrease inflammation in your airways and make breathing easier. Prolonged use of these drugs can increase your risk of high blood pressure, weaken you bones and cause diabetes and cataracts. They are typically reserved for patients with severe or moderate COPD.

• Antibiotics. Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, influenza and acute bronchitis, can worsen COPD symptoms. Antibiotics battle bacterial infections and are physician ordered only when necessary.

Cardiopulmonary Therapy

• Oxygen therapy. If you don’t have sufficient oxygen in your body, you will require supplemental oxygen. There are several oxygen delivery devices to provide oxygen to your lungs, including portable, lightweight units that are easy to use and take with you to get out of the house to run errands and such. Some patients with COPD generally use oxygen only during sleep or activities. Other people use oxygen continuously.

• Pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs generally combine exercise training, nutrition advice, education and counseling from your respiratory therapist and other therapeutic professionals. If you are referred to a pulmonary rehabilitation program by your physician, you will work with an interdisciplinary group of health care professionals, including, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and dietitians. These professionals will personalize your rehabilitation program to meet your specific needs. Regular exercise will dramatically improve the efficiency of your pulmonary and cardiovascular system.

Surgery

This is a possibility some patients with specific forms of end-stage emphysema who do not responding to medication therapy:

• Lung reduction surgery. With this surgery, the surgeon removes small areas of lung tissue that is damaged. This provides for additional area in your chest so that the diaphragm and the remaining lung will work more effectively. This surgery has many risks, and nonsurgical approaches may be the same as post-surgical long-term results.
• Lung transplantation. A single-lung transplant may be a solution for specific patients with severe emphysema who meet certain criteria. Having a lung transplant may improve your ability to be active and breathe easier, but studies show it doesn’t appear to prolong life. A patient may have to wait for a long period of time on a donor list. So, the decision to be a lung transplant recipient is complicated.

Managing COPD exacerbations

Even though you’re receiving ongoing treatment, you may still experience worsening symptoms. This is termed by your physician as an acute exacerbation. These exacerbation symptoms may cause lung failure if timely intervention/treatment is not received. Exacerbations can be caused by a change in outdoor temperatures, high air pollution levels or a respiratory infection. Please seek medical treatment if you notice an increase in your coughing, shortness of breath or a change in your sputum. Don’t hesitate to contact your primary care physician or pulmonologist, or call 911.