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COPD Treatments: Improving Your Quality of Life

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COPD Treatment: Taking Medications continued...

Your doctor may prescribe more than one type of medication. Here are the most common types used to treat COPD:

Bronchodilators. This class of medications helps widen airways. These medications may make breathing easier and reduce the number of episodes if the disease acutely worsens. Your doctor is likely to first prescribe an inhaled bronchodilator. To take it, you breathe in using a device such as a metered dose inhaler, dry powder inhaler, or nebulizer. Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) use a chemical to push medication out of the inhaler. 

You may need to combine more than one bronchodilator or use a combination product for the best results.

Examples of bronchodilators used as COPD treatment include:

  • Anticholinergic bronchodilators block acetylcholine, a chemical "messenger" that makes airways constrict. They may help you breathe easier and lower the number of acute episodes you have. They may be short-acting (used 4 times a day) or long-acting (used once daily).
  • Short-acting beta-agonists is a COPD treatment you may use if you have symptoms every once in a while, such as while exercising. They are used as needed for treatment of symptoms. They may also prevent a full-fledged attack when you feel shortness of breath coming on. Long-acting beta-agonists are available for twice daily use. You may still need to use a short-acting beta-agonist as a "rescue" therapy to quickly control a sudden attack.
  • Methylxanthines may be helpful for people who have trouble with inhaled medications. That's because you can take them orally. However, this medication is used less often than in the past due to its side effects. Methylxanthines are tried in instances when, despite treatment optimization, symptoms still persist.

Corticosteroids. These medications may help reduce airway inflammation. Inhaled corticosteroids are mainly used in those whose symptoms are not well controlled with bronchodilators only. That's because they work less well for COPD than they do for other lung problems such as asthma.

Daliresp. This is a pill that's part of a new class of COPD treatment -- it's an inhibitor of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE-4). Daliresp  prevents COPD flares in people whose condition is associated with chronic bronchitis. The drug is not intended for other types of COPD.  

Antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection in your respiratory tract, such as sinusitis, acute bronchitis, or pneumonia.