Medications Help Manage COPD Symptoms


Paige Greenfield

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Although COPD has no cure, medications can make a difference. The goals of treating COPD are to reduce your symptoms, slow the development of the disease, and ward off complications. Remembering to take your medications means that you can feel as well as possible.

Here are some common medications your doctor may prescribe to help you breathe easier.


These drugs help relax the muscles around your airways. This allows air to flow more easily so that you're better able to breathe. Most bronchodilators come in a device called an inhaler, which delivers the medication directly into your lungs.

If you have a mild form of COPD, your physician may prescribe a short-acting bronchodilator. This means that you use it only when you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath. The medicine lasts for four to six hours. If you have moderate or severe COPD, however, you might use a long-acting bronchodilator to keep the airways open. Most are used daily and last for about 12 hours. People with moderate or severe COPD may use a short-acting bronchodilator in addition to a long-acting one.

Tip: Many of the devices that deliver these medications look alike or have similar colors. Make sure you're careful to take the right medication at the right time.

Inhaled steroids

Steroids help reduce inflammation in your airways. Like bronchodilators, steroids used to treat COPD often come in an inhaler so that they can go right into your lungs. Your doctor may tell you to use your inhaler daily or only when your symptoms flare up, depending on your condition.


People with COPD have a greater risk for pneumonia and may get colds or the flu more frequently. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help combat infections, since they can make your COPD worse.

Oxygen therapy

If you have a more severe form of the disease, you may have low levels of oxygen in your blood. Your doctor may put you on oxygen therapy to help you breathe. The gas enters your lungs through plastic tubes that fit inside your nostrils or a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Using oxygen can help you accomplish everyday tasks more easily and sleep better at night. In the long run, it protects your heart from damage and may even extend your life. 

Medical Reviewers: L Marcellin, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Nov 10, 2012

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Lung Disease, National Women’s Health Information Center (;
  2. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (;
  3. How Is COPD Treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (;
  4. What Is Oxygen Therapy? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (;
  5. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, MedLine Plus encyclopedia (;
  6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease—Control Drugs, MedLine Plus encyclopedia (;

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