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COPD Exacerbation Treatments and Medications

WebMD Medical Reference from the COPD Foundation


There are a number of treatments that may ease the symptoms of a COPD exacerbation. It is very important to know all your options. You and your health care provider can develop a treatment plan that suits you best. Staying on top of your treatment plan is vital to your comfort and health.

1. Medicines that are prescribed for COPD patients may include:

  • Short-acting beta2-agonists, such as albuterol; anticholinergic bronchodilators, such as ipratropium bromide; and theophylline products. All of these help to open narrowed airways.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators. These help relieve constriction of the airways and help to prevent
    bronchospasm associated with COPD. (Warning: do not use more than what has been prescribed.)
  • Antibiotics, which are often given at the first sign of a lung infection to prevent further damage in diseased lungs.
  • Expectorants, which help loosen and expel mucus secretions from the airways. They may help make breathing easier.
  • Frequently, oral steroids are required during an exacerbation. Some suggest that the early use of high-dose steroids by mouth or by I.V. can greatly shorten the length and severity of an exacerbation. A typical steroid course may be oral prednisone. After you are better, you will be weaned over 10 days to two weeks to low daily or alternate-day dosing. You will then be moved to an inhaled steroid. You should never stop taking long-term oral steroids abruptly. This is because the adrenal glands may not be able to quickly resume steroid production. The lack of enough levels of steroids could cause life-threatening situations. If you have been on long-term oral steroids, it is critical that you tell the doctor treating you.

2. Oxygen therapy is at the core of emergency room/hospital treatment of COPD exacerbations.

Levels of oxygenation greater than 90 percent are easy to achieve in basic exacerbations. Once oxygen is started, arterial blood gases should be checked. This is to ensure ample oxygenation without CO2 retention. Venturi masks are better sources of controlled oxygen than nasal prongs.

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