COPD can’t be cured, but it can be treated. Early diagnosis, lifestyle changes and appropriate drug treatments can help you lead a normal and active life, feel better and stay out of hospital.
Quitting smoking is the most important step in treating your COPD.
It helps to quit smoking, even if you already have COPD. In fact, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to feel better. COPD will get worse if you continue to smoke or are around second-hand smoke or air pollution.
A variety of medicines are used to treat COPD. COPD medicines cannot cure COPD, but they can improve your symptoms. Your doctor will decide which medication is best for you based on the severity of your COPD, how badly it affects your daily life and any adverse effects from the medication.
The different types of COPD medicines include:
Bronchodilator medicines open up the airways (breathing tubes) in your lungs. When your airways are more open, it’s easier to breathe.
- Steroid inhaler
If you have regular flare-ups or exacerbations of your COPD, you may also be given a steroid inhaler. This can help reduce inflammation and swelling in your airways. This sort of drug is usually given with a long-acting bronchodilator in a combination inhaler
If you cough up a lot of sputum, you may be given a drug called a mucolytic as a tablet or syrup. This makes your sputum thinner and easier to cough up.
Sometimes with COPD, you require extra or supplemental oxygen (also called oxygen therapy). Oxygen is only useful as a treatment for people with a low oxygen level. It’s not a treatment for breathlessness, which in COPD is usually caused by difficulty moving air in and out as you breathe, rather than by a low oxygen level.
This involves wearing a nasal cannula (a soft tube inserted into your nose) or face mask connected to a machine that pushes air into your lungs. Non-invasive ventilation supports your breathing to give your muscles a rest and gently helps with each breathe you take. This increases your oxygen level and helps you breathe out more carbon dioxide.
This is generally done when you are hospitalized with a flare up. If you regularly wake up with a headache, tell your doctor. It can be a sign your breathing is shallow at night and you might benefit from non-invasive ventilation at home.
Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS)
For some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung volume reduction surgery may be recommended. LVRS is an operation which removes the worst affected areas of your lung so that the healthier parts of your lung can work better.
If you have emphysema, this surgery can help to make your breathing more comfortable and improve your quality of life. But it’s a significant operation and does carry risks.
If you have very severe COPD and have not got better with treatment, you might be a candidate for a lung transplant depending on your age, other illnesses and test findings. In a lung transplant surgeons take out one or two of the lungs and replace them with healthy lungs.
Lung transplants can improve your ability to breathe and be active. However, like any major operation, you should consider the risks and complications, such as organ rejection or needing to take immune-suppressing medications daily.