COPD treatment can help reduce symptoms, prevent flare-ups, and make it easier to do daily activities.

Inhaled medications

These medications are inhaled into the lungs using an inhaler device.

Bronchodilators used for COPD can be categorized as being short-acting or long-acting, as well as according to their class (either beta-2 agonists or muscarinic antagonists).

Short- and long-acting bronchodilators help open the airways to make breathing easier for people with COPD. They are used for all severities of COPD (mild, moderate, and severe). Short-acting bronchodilators work fast: these are "rescue medications" used as needed to quickly relieve shortness of breath, but their duration of action is short-lived. Long-acting bronchodilators are "maintenance medications" used regularly to help keep the disease under control. There are 2 types of these: long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMA) and long-acting beta-2 agonists (LABA).

When first diagnosed with COPD, you will be given a short-acting bronchodilator as a rescue medication. You doctor may also give you either a LAMA or a LABA for maintenance. If your COPD is still not controlled, your LAMA or LABA medication may be changed to a LAMA/LABA combination inhaler. However, depending on your individual circumstance, your doctor will tailor your treatment to you. For example, people who also have asthma will follow a different treatment recommendation.

Inhaled corticosteroids help with the swelling in the airways. They are used as maintenance medications to keep the disease under control. Your doctor may add a corticosteroid if your COPD is not controlled despite treatment with a LAMA/LABA combination medication. When this happens, you will be given a combination inhaler that delivers a LABA and a corticosteroid, and a separate LAMA inhaler.

Oral medications

Oral medications such as phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, mucolytics, and theophyllines are maintenance medications that may be added if your COPD is not under control despite the optimal use of inhaled medications. Sometimes antibiotics may also be used as maintenance medication.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy provides extra oxygen for people with COPD who have very low levels of oxygen in the blood or temporary lung damage from infections.

Oxygen is stored in a cylinder or made using a machine called an oxygen concentrator. The oxygen is delivered into the lungs through a mask or nasal prongs (which fit into the nostrils). Some people need oxygen only during exercise, some use it only at night, and others need it all day and night. Oxygen may also be used over the short term for people who have temporary lung damage due to an infection.