COPD Symptoms and Treatments

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obstructs the airways and decreases airflow in and out of the lungs. The disease’s primary cause is smoking, but it can also be caused by pollution, genetic conditions, and other diseases.

Symptoms of COPD

COPD has a wide variety of symptoms, but the most common include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue

Symptoms of severe COPD include:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Tachypnea (rapid breathing)
  • Cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin, lips, or fingernails)
  • Hyperinflation
  • Abnormal lung sounds
  • Unintended weight loss

What symptoms present and how severe they are will vary based on which stage of COPD someone is at. There are four stages of COPD that range in severity, and the best treatment for an individual with the disease depends on their set of symptoms and the stage they are in.

COPD Treatments

There isn’t a cure for COPD, but the goal of treatment is to slow down the spread of the disease, prevent flare-ups, limit the symptoms, and improve the individual’s quality of life.

Many people with COPD use a combination of treatments to manage their symptoms. Some treatments are administered regularly, and some are only given to patients during a flare-up.


Popular medications include:

With savings options available from

  • Anoro Ellipta
  • Stiolto Respimat


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Several types of medication can help people who suffer from COPD. Bronchodilators, which relax the muscles around the airways, are among the most common treatments. They’re usually administered with an inhaler, and they can improve breathing and relieve coughing. Short-acting bronchodilators are good for short-term use before activities that may aggravate COPD symptoms.

If the symptoms are more severe and the individual constantly has trouble breathing, long-acting bronchodilators are a good option for long-lasting, everyday use.

Inhaled Corticosteroids

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Inhaled corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the airways and prevent COPD exacerbations. They’re helpful for people who experience frequent flare-ups. Many people use combination inhalers, which contain both bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids.

Oral Steroids


Doctors may prescribe oral steroids for moderate to severe exacerbations. A short course of oral steroids can prevent COPD symptoms from spreading or worsening. They’re typically only used for a short period of time, though. When used long-term, though, they can cause harmful side effects, including weight gain, diabetes, and osteoporosis.



It’s also common for people with COPD to be prescribed antibiotics. Respiratory infections can worsen COPD symptoms, and antibiotics can treat infections or exacerbations. However, they shouldn’t be used as prevention for infections or flare-ups.

Trelegy Ellipta

A recently approved new medication called Trelegy Ellipta combines the three most popular medication types into a single-use medicine. Taken once a day, this drug is used as a long-term treatment option for managing COPD. The company says that it improves breathing function and reduces flareups by opening airways and reducing inflammation.

It is important to note that this is not a rescue inhaler and should not be used as such.

Prices can typically range from $530 to $630, although there are discounts available. The company offers a coupon that can be reused for a year, allowing eligible patients to pay no more than $10 per month for their prescription. Many other companies and pharmacies also offer comparable prices and discounts for eligible patients.

Other Medications

Other medicines that provide quick relief for exacerbations include anticholinergics like ipratropium and tiotropium and beta2-agonists like albuterol or metaproterenol.

Other Treatments

While popular, medications are not the only treatments available for managing this condition.

Oxygen Therapy

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COPD can cause sufferers to have an insufficient amount of oxygen in their blood. Oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen. Patients can carry a lightweight unit with them that delivers oxygen to the lungs. Depending on the symptoms’ severity, an individual may only need supplemental oxygen during some activities or sleep. Other people may need supplemental oxygen all the time.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program


A pulmonary rehabilitation program is a combination of a variety of services, including:

  • Exercise training
  • Nutrition advice
  • Counseling
  • Education

During the rehabilitation program, specialists help patients learn to manage their COPD symptoms. This lessens the symptoms, shortens hospital stays, and improves patients’ overall quality of life.

Breathing Machines

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Breathing machines, or mechanical ventilation, can help patients breathe if medications don’t work. NPPV, or noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, provides air to the lungs with a face mask. People experiencing a severe flare-up may need invasive ventilation, which involves a breathing tube inserted into the windpipe.



In some cases, surgery can provide relief from COPD symptoms. Lung volume reduction surgery involves removing small pieces of damaged lung tissue, which creates more space in the chest cavity for the healthy tissue to expand. This space makes it easier to breathe, and it can lengthen the patient’s lifespan and significantly improve their overall quality of life.

A lung transplant is sometimes an option for a patient who meets specific criteria. This surgery significantly improves the ability to breathe, but it has many risks and requires a lifetime of immune-suppressing medications.

A bullectomy procedure is the removal of bullae, which are large air spaces that form when air sacs are destroyed. When the bullae become very large, they cause breathing problems, so a bullectomy can provide relief.

Lifestyle Changes

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No treatment plan is complete without lifestyle changes.

The best way to treat COPD is to stop smoking. Quitting smoking is difficult, but it’s possible for everyone. Doctors can recommend nicotine replacement products or other medications to help with quitting. There are also many support groups available for people trying to quit. People with COPD should also avoid lung irritants and places with fumes, dust, or other toxic substances.

Good nutrition is essential for a good quality of life with COPD. It may be difficult for patients to eat because of shortness of breath or fatigue. However, when an individual doesn’t get enough nutrients, it can worsen symptoms and increase the risk of developing an infection. Many people with COPD find that it helps to rest before eating and eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Taking vitamins or supplements is also helpful for people with COPD.

Gentle exercise can improve muscle and bone health, which is important for people with COPD. Patients should always consult their doctor before starting an exercise routine, but popular exercises for people with COPD include walking, yoga, and pedaling a stationary bike.

Final Thoughts

COPD symptoms can be painful and difficult, but there are many treatment options available. Doctors and patients can work together to find the most effective treatments that alleviate pain and improve quality of life.


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