Treatments for COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung conditions, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that make breathing difficult. While COPD is a chronic, progressive disease that has no cure, treatments can help control your symptoms, prevent complications, and improve quality of life. Read on to learn more about the various treatments used to manage COPD.
Lifestyle changes and medical treatments for COPD are recommended with the goals of slowing the progression of the disease, relieving symptoms, improving overall health and quality of life, and preventing the development of complications. Most importantly, anyone diagnosed with COPD should quit smoking. Talk with your doctor about ways to quit, including support groups, cessation products, medications, and other methods that can make it easier to stop smoking. To protect your lungs, you should also avoid secondhand smoke as well as exposure to dust and fumes.
Some people with COPD experience a loss of appetite due to shortness of breath and fatigue. In these cases, the support of a dietitian can help ensure you are consuming enough calories and nutrients to stay healthy. Eating smaller meals more often, resting before meals, and taking vitamins can also help resolve this symptom.
If your doctor says it’s OK for you to exercise, doing even a small amount of physical activity can help strengthen the muscles that allow you to breathe. Your doctor or a physical therapist can also recommend exercises that are safe for you. Remaining physically active with this condition is an important part of maintaining quality of life. Most people with COPD benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, an ongoing, comprehensive program that incorporates exercise, nutritional support, disease management training, and psychological counseling.
Medications for COPD include bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around your airway to make it easier for you to breathe. In more severe COPD cases, these are often prescribed in combination with inhaled glucocorticosteroids. These steroids help reduce airway inflammation that can also limit breathing.
People who have low blood oxygen levels as a result of severe COPD may require oxygen therapy, delivered either through prongs or a mask. Some need constant oxygen support, while others need it only when doing certain activities.
It’s also important for people with COPD to be vaccinated against disease that affect the lungs, including flu and the pneumococcal virus. The flu vaccine must be given annually, while the vaccine for pneumococcal virus is good for ten years.
If you have severe COPD symptoms that have not responded to other treatments, your pulmonologist may recommend surgery. There are two procedures that are generally effective for people who have emphysema-related COPD. The first, a bullectomy, removes the large pockets of air that develop because of damage to the lungs. The other procedure, called lung volume reduction surgery, removes damaged lung tissue to ease breathing and control symptoms. In the most severe cases, a lung transplant may be recommended for COPD patients. However, there are serious complications that may arise, so not everyone is a candidate for this procedure.
The earlier that COPD is diagnosed, the easier it tends to be to keep the disease under control. Talk with your doctor right away if you are at risk for COPD and have noticed any troubling symptoms. These include an ongoing cough that produces substantial mucus, shortness of breath (particularly when exerting yourself), tightness in the chest, frequent illness, and a wheezing sound when you breathe.