A Quick Overview of COPD Treatment Options


Treating COPD can be a complex undertaking.

There are 2 types of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): chronic bronchitis and emphysema.1

Treating COPD can be a complex undertaking because the disease’s major symptoms do not generally appear until a significant amount of lung damage has occurred, and the condition becomes progressively worse over time. Therefore, the selection of a treatment regimen for COPD must focus on decreasing or controlling symptoms and reducing the risk of serious complications.

One of the most important steps that any patient with COPD should take is to stop smoking. Smoking cessation is a tried-and-true method of preventing COPD from worsening. It can be perceived as a daunting task, but it is a goal that can be accomplished, especially with effective pharmacist counseling.

In addition to nonpharmacological interventions, there are a number of medications that can be used to alleviate COPD symptoms. For instance, bronchodilators can be used to relax the muscles of the lungs and assist with opening the airways.

Short-acting bronchodilators such as albuterol and levalbuterol can help to alleviate shortness of breath or cough that can be experience by patients with COPD.2 These short-acting inhalers can be used on an as-needed basis to managed the periodic symptoms of COPD.1

Long-acting inhalers or bronchodilators such as tiotropium and formoterol are generally used in later stages of COPD and over a longer duration of time than short-acting inhalers.2 Inhaled steroids such as fluticasone or budesonide can also be used to reduce swelling that can occur in the airways and prevent COPD exacerbations and associated inflammation. Inhalers that combine bronchodilators and inhaled steroids use the 2 mechanisms of action to target the symptoms of shortness of breath, hoarseness, swelling, or inflammation all in one.2

Oral steroids are generally reserved for individuals with moderate to acute COPD exacerbation and can help prevent the progressive disease worsening. Newer agents include phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, which help to minimize airway inflammation and open the airways, and theophylline, which is a fairly inexpensive drug that can be used to help improve quality of breathing and minimize the development of exacerbations.

The selection of a medication for COPD management is based on the presentation and severity of symptoms. After the optimal drug is selected, the pharmacist can teach the patient how to properly administer it.

It is through appropriate administration that any available COPD drug can work to provide optimal benefit and achieve the desired therapeutic goal.


1. Heitz D. What do you want to know about COPD? http://www.healthline.com/health/copd. Published July 30, 2014. Accessed March 1, 2016.

2. Mayo Clinic. Disease and conditions: COPD. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/basics/definition/con-20032017. Published XX. Accessed March 1, 2016.

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