Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and no way to reverse damage it has already caused in the lungs and airways. However, treatment for COPD is available, and a number of therapy options can relieve symptoms, and more importantly, slow the progression of the disease.
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, your doctor will set several goals for treatment. They include the following.
- Stop or slow the progress of the disease and the lung destruction it’s causing.
- Improve lung function.
- Reduce the number of COPD exacerbations. An exacerbation is considered to be a worsening of symptoms.
- Improve overall quality of life.
The first and most critical step in COPD treatment is to get the patient to stop smoking. There’s no doubt that smoking causes far more cases of COPD than anything else. Unless the patient gives up the habit, there’s little chance of a successful outcome to treatment.
A number of medications are available that reduce chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms. These can be effective with shortness of breath and fighting respiratory infections. These include bronchodilators, corticosteroids and antibiotics.
Bronchdilators are usually the first step in treatment of COPD. Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the bronchi, which are the air passages leading to the lungs from the throat area. This permits easier breathing.
Medications called anticholinergics are usually given through inhalers (known to COPD patients as puffers). This treatment usually works for four to six hours. There are minimal side effects, although one often-prescribed anticholinergic drug, known as ipratropium bromide or Atrovent, can cause coughing and nervousness.
Beta 2-agonists offer another COPD treatment option. These work through the nervous system. Beta2-agonists cause the air passages to expand, allowing for better air flow. There are two types: Short-acting and long acting.
Some bronchodilators combine the benefits of anticholinergic and short-acting beta2-agonists. These are known as combination bronchodilators. They work by acting on the part of the nervous system that controls airway size and muscles around the airways. This can be more efficient than either component alone. There could be some side effects though, including bronchitis, upper respiratory tract infections, and headaches.
A bronchodilator called theophylline can be taken orally. It affects muscle, heart, and various other components and systems of the body. Theophylline opens the airways, improves muscle endurance and reduces muscle fatigue. It used to be the most prescribed treatment for COPD, but this is no longer true because it has more side effects than newer medications. There is still an option, but mostly for those patients who can’t use aerosol therapy. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, headaches and insomnia.
Corticosteroids are still used sometimes for COPD treatment, but they’re only appropriate for a small group of COPD patients. Corticosteroids improve lung function for about 1 in 10 patients. They’re prescribed more frequently for asthma, and they may have side effects which include upper respiratory infections, headaches and pharyngitis.
Antibiotics may have some value as a treatment of COPD where the patient has an acute bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. They can also be helpful in the treatment of COPD exacerbations when there are symptoms of an infection such as fever or cough.
Oxygen therapy is another way to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease symptoms. A number of devices are available that provide concentrated oxygen to COPD patients. This lengthens longevity in those with advanced COPD and severely reduced oxygen levels in their blood. Oxygen therapy is most effective when done around the clock, but using oxygen 12 hours a day also has benefits. Oxygen therapy may also improve problems with dyspnea, or shortness of breath.
This article has been intended for those who wish to obtain a basic and purely introductory knowledge of COPD treatment. Your best source of information on COPD treatment is, naturally, your doctor or a respiratory specialist of your choice.