Treatment for COPD: An Overview

Quincy AdamCOPD Treatments

treating asthma with inhaler
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease affecting the ability to move air efficiently in and out of the lungs, making it more difficult to complete daily tasks independently. While there is no cure, there are many treatment options for COPD to help manage the symptoms associated with the disease, especially shortness of breath.


Treatments for COPD range from simple lifestyle modifications to more invasive choices like surgery, but all options have the same goal: to slow the progression of the disease, thereby increasing exercise tolerance and improving quality of life. COPD can affect individuals differently, so it is important to work with a medical team to find the best treatment or combination of treatments for you.

COPD Treatment Options

1.) Oxygen Therapy for COPD

COPD affects how much air gets in and out of your lungs. If there is not enough air available to oxygenate the bloodstream, this can lead to hypoxemia or low oxygen levels in the blood.

An inhaler or canister may improve the amount of oxygen available to your blood, making it easier to breathe.1 Once breathing is less demanding, you may find it easier to take on tasks that were previously difficult or impossible to complete.

2.) Natural COPD Treatments

Simple lifestyle modifications may slow the progression of the disease and help manage symptoms.2 You should discuss the following with a healthcare professional to determine if they are appropriate for you.

  •  Stop smoking (if applicable)
  • Balance your nutritional diet to help maintain body mass3
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques if you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression which can be common with COPD4
  • Practice singing. One study noted that weekly singing lessons improved quality of life, decreased stress levels, and improved overall well-being5

3.) Medications for COPD

Bronchodilators are used to reduce resistance in the airways, improving airflow and making it easier to breathe. They come in inhaler, powder inhaler, or nebulizer forms depending on patient comfort. Each device has advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to discuss all options with a healthcare provider. Bronchodilators include:

  • Anticholinergics: work by relaxing the muscles around the large airways that may become constricted upon irritation, thereby making it difficult to breathe.6
  • Beta-agonists: relax muscles around the smaller airways. Beta-agonists come in both short and long-acting forms.
  • Short-acting forms take effect quickly but only last about 4-6 hours so may be used for exacerbations
  • Long-acting forms last a longer duration but also take longer to take effect, so may be used for maintenance effects
  • Corticosteroids: can be used in conjunction with bronchodilators for their anti-inflammatory impact in the airways, further reducing resistance. However, long-term steroid use can have adverse side effects, so steroids are usually only used during periods of exacerbations.7

4.) Physical Therapy

Pulmonary (lung) rehabilitation focuses on strengthening your breathing muscles and improving the ability to excrete mucus forcefully.8 Also, improving exercise tolerance with aerobic training may improve your capacity to stay involved in daily activities.9

5.) Clinical Trials

Companies are conducting clinical trials to advance the treatment of COPD. These trials rely on volunteers who are willing to try new therapies. If you take part in such trials, you may have access to the new treatment if it becomes available.

As any trial has risks associated with it, an informed consent is required to take part in clinical trials. The company will explain these risks to you. In addition, if you sign up for a clinical trial, you can leave it at any point. Of course, if you’re considering participating in a clinical trial, you should first talk with your doctor.

COPD can have a significant impact on your ability to breathe, affecting your participation in daily activities. While there is no cure for COPD, treatment options focus on making breathing easier and improving exercise tolerance to enable you to be more independent at home.
Due to the progressive nature of COPD, it is crucial to monitor changes in symptoms and discuss with a physician in order to update treatment plans accordingly.


1Findley LJ., Whelan DM. Long-term oxygen therapy in COPD. Chest 1983;83(4):671-674 , 3/19/15

2 COPD National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services., 3/19/15

3  Schols AJ. et al. Prevalence and characteristics of nutritional depletion in patients with stable COPD eligible for pulmonary rehabilitation. Ameri Review of Resp Dis 1993;147(5):1151-1156 , 3/20/15

4Leupoldt A., Fritz A., et al. Behavioral medicine approach to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ann Behav Med 2012;44(1):52-65 , 3/20/15

5  Leupoldt A., Fritz A., et al. Behavioral medicine approach to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ann Behav Med 2012;44(1):52-65 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612952/, 3/20/15

6 Grimes GC., Manning JM., et al. Medications for COPD: a review of effectiveness. American Family Physician 2007;76(8):1141-1148. , 3/20/15

Grimes GC., Manning JM., et al. Medications for COPD: a review of effectiveness. American Family Physician 2007;76(8):1141-1148. , 3/20/15

8 Gosselink R. Breathing techniques in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chron Resp Dis 2004:1(3);163-172. , 3/20/15

9 Gosselink R. Breathing techniques in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chron Resp Dis 2004:1(3);163-172. , 3/20/15