COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) is the third most common cause of death in America, after cancer and heart disease.
It mainly affects people above the age of 40. But, millions of people have symptoms of damaged lung function. This means that there’s a high possibility of under-diagnosis.
COPD is a progressive, lifelong inflammatory lung disease that makes breathing difficult. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, tightness in the chest, production of phlegm, and wheezing. However, these symptoms might not be obvious until the latter stages of the illness.
There’s no cure for COPD but it’s a treatable and preventable disease. The earlier one begins treatment, the better their prognosis.
That said, here’s a comprehensive guide to COPD treatment options. Read on and learn more!
There are two major classes of medicine for COPD. The first medication is for illnesses that can worsen COPD if left untreated, and the other is for treating specific COPD symptoms.
Bronchodilators help to relax the wall muscles in the airways, making it easier to breathe. This relieves shortness of breath and coughing. There are two kinds of bronchodilators for managing COPD:
Long-acting bronchodilators help keep the airways relaxed and open for longer periods (e.g. throughout the night). They begin working more slowly, even though their effects last longer (12-24 hours).
Examples include Spiriva (Tiotropium), Serevent (Salmeterol), Arcapta (Indacaterol), and Brovana (Arformoterol).
Short-acting bronchodilators relieve shortness of breath within 15-20 minutes but the effects last for just 4-6 hours.
Examples include Xopenex (Levalbuterol), Atrovent (Ipratropium), ProAir and Ventolin (Albuterol).
You may need one or both types of bronchodilators, depending on your illness. Bronchodilators are often given either through aerosol therapy or with an inhaler.
Inhaled corticosteroid medicines can ease airway inflammation and prevent exacerbations. They can cause side effects like hoarseness, oral infections, and bruising.
These medicines are helpful for people with constant COPD exacerbations. Examples of inhaled corticosteroids include Budesonide (Ulceris, Pulmicor Flexhaler, etc.) and Fluticasone (Flonase, Flovent HFA, etc).
Some drugs combine inhaled steroids and bronchodilators. Combination inhalers include Fluticasone and Salmeterol (Advair) and Budesonide and Formoterol (Symbicort).
For people with acute or moderate cases of COPD, short courses of oral corticosteroids (e.g. 5 days) can prevent further worsening of COPD.
But, if used long-term, oral steroids may cause serious side effects. These include diabetes, weight gain, cataracts, osteoporosis, and a heightened risk of infection.
There’s a new medication in town for patients with chronic bronchitis symptoms and severe COPD. It’s a phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor known as Roflumilast (Daliresp).
This medication relaxes the airways and reduces airway inflammation. Weight loss and diarrhea are some of its common side effects.
Respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, pneumonia, and bronchitis can worsen the symptoms of COPD. Antibiotics help treat severe exacerbation but aren’t usually recommended for COPD prevention.
Theophylline is a low-cost medicine that can help prevent exacerbations and improve breathing. Side effects can include headaches, nausea, tremor, and fast heartbeat. Low doses are advised since side effects are dose-related.
Doctors often use lung therapy for people with acute or moderate COPD.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program
This program usually combines exercise training, education, counseling, and nutrition advice. You’ll work with various experts who can make you a custom rehabilitation program that suits your needs.
Pulmonary rehabilitation may increase your ability to carry out daily activities. It can also shorten hospitalization and improve the quality of your life. Ask your doctor for a referral to this program.
If your blood wants for oxygen, you might need supplemental oxygen. Some COPD patients use oxygen only while sleeping or participating in activities. Others always use oxygen.
Oxygen therapy is the only treatment proven to prolong life and can improve your quality of life. Talk to your physician about your options and needs.
If you suffer from COPD, here some lifestyle changes you can implement to slow the impairment of your lungs and feel better.
Eat Healthy Foods
Eating a healthy diet will help to maintain your strength. If you are overweight, losing pounds can greatly aid your breathing, particularly during periods of exertion. If you’re underweight, you may need nutritional supplements.
Quit Smoking and Air Pollution
Apart from stopping smoking, it’s vital to avoid areas where other people smoke. Secondhand cigarette smoke may damage your lungs further. Other kinds of air pollution can also irritate your lungs.
Clear Your Airways
If you have COPD, you’ll notice that mucus usually collects in the airways and can be hard to clear. Drinking lots of water, using a humidifier, and controlled coughing can help.
When you have problems with breathing, exercise may seem like hard work. But, regular workouts can strengthen your respiratory muscles and increase your overall stamina and endurance.
Talk to your doctor about which activities are right for you.
Control Your Breathing
Discuss with your doctor or therapist about ways to breathe more efficiently all day. Also, make sure to discuss relaxation techniques and breathing positions you can try when you have shortness of breath.
Visit Your Doctor Regularly
Even if you are feeling fine, follow your appointment schedule. It’s vital to keep a steady eye on your lung function. Also, make sure to get your flu vaccine during the fall to prevent illnesses that can make your COPD worse.
Ask your physician when you should get the pneumococcal vaccine. If you notice signs of illness or your symptoms worsen, inform your doctor.
Surgery is normally only recommended for a few people with acute COPD whose symptoms aren’t responding to medicine. There are three major surgeries that can be carried out:
In this operation, the surgeon removes the damaged lung and replaces it with a healthy one from a donor.
Lung Volume Reduction
This operation involves removing a badly damaged lung section to let the healthier parts work better and improve breathing.
In this surgery, a pocket of air is removed from one lung, which improves lung function and breathing.
These surgeries are done under general anesthesia and involve significant risks, so consult your doctor before having any.
Summary of COPD Treatment Options
When you’re diagnosed with COPD, you’ll probably have many questions and you may not always get clear answers at first.
Not everyone with COPD has similar symptoms and treatment can vary between people. As such, it’s important to speak to your physician about your COPD treatment options and have all your questions answered.
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