Treating COPD

COPD is a long-term condition for which there is currently no cure. However, treatments are available to help control your symptoms, reduce your risk of having a 'flare-up' and improve your quality of life.

Early diagnosis and treatment of COPD means improved care and better quality of life.

What are the treatments for COPD?

Stopping smoking

If you smoke, stopping smoking is the most important thing you can do if you have COPD. Stopping smoking will help to slow down or prevent any further damage to your lungs.

Medical treatments

There are several different types of medicines for people with COPD. Which ones you are offered will depend on your symptoms and on the severity of your COPD.

The most common way of delivering medicines to treat COPD is by inhaling them (breathing in fine particles of the medicine). This allows the medicine to be delivered directly to your lungs, getting the greatest effect with the least side effects.

Inhaler devices come in many different shapes and sizes. Different devices will suit different people and it is important that you can use your inhaler properly to get the most benefit from it.

If you have difficulty either with your inhaler technique or with the physical handling of your inhaler, you may find a spacer useful.

If you are using maximum doses of inhalers but are still badly affected by breathlessness, your doctor may recommend that you use a nebuliser. This is a device that turns the medicine into a fine mist that you can breathe in using a mouthpiece or a face mask.

For more information about the different types of inhalers and video clips showing how to use them correctly, visit the My Lungs My Life self-management website.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a structured programme of physical activity and education specifically designed for people with long-term chest conditions like COPD.

"Pulmonary rehabilitation helped to turn my life around. It allowed me to be much more in control of my COPD and my life."

Pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the most effective treatments for people with COPD. It can lead to significant improvements in your quality of life and ability to exercise. It can also help to improve symptoms such as breathlessness. Once you have completed pulmonary rehabilitation it is important to continue exercising at the right level for you to maintain the benefits.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy is used to treat low levels of oxygen in your blood. Although this will usually cause you to be breathless, being breathless does not always mean that you have low oxygen levels. If your doctor thinks that you will benefit from oxygen therapy, he or she will send you for an oxygen assessment.

After your assessment, if the specialist thinks that you will benefit from oxygen therapy you will be prescribed oxygen for use at home.

Managing a flare-up

"I know what the signs are for me to look out for now and I can spot them quicker. I have my rescue medication ready at home and I tell my doctor what I'm doing"

A flare-up, also known as an exacerbation, is when your symptoms suddenly get worse. It might be triggered by an infection, a change in the weather or by stress. You may have:

  • Worsening breathlessness
  • New or increased cough
  • Increased sputum
  • Discoloured sputum

You may also feel unwell and have a temperature.

It is important that a flare-up is managed quickly to prevent your symptoms getting worse.

To find out more about the treatment of COPD, including what to do if you have a flare up of your symptoms and how flare-ups are managed, see the CHSS booklet Living with COPD (PDF).