Healthy Living

Managing COPD

Managing COPD

Key Takeaways

  • COPD cannot be cured but the symptoms can be managed.
  • Managing COPD is essential to slow down the progression of this disease, and to improve an individual's quality of life.
  • Quitting smoking plays an important role to manage COPD.
  • Drugs, inhalers, and rehabilitation programs can help you to control your COPD symptoms and improve your life.

Albeit there is no cure for COPD, there are medicines available to manage this disease. Taking these medications can slow down the progression of the disease, and improve one's quality of life.

Stop smoking!

Cessation of smoking is one step that will help toward managing symptoms of COPD. If you have mild COPD, and you are in the early stages of the disease, quitting smoking can help to reverse the initial inflammation and improve your lung functions. However, if you are in the late stages of the disease, quitting smoking will not reverse the symptoms of COPD, but it will aid to slow down the progression of it.

Quitting smoking is difficult, however, there are many programs available to help combat your addiction.

Medications

There are several medications available that will help to manage the symptoms of COPD and improve your quality of life.

1. Bronchodilators

These are used to keep your airways (bronchi) as wide as possible, to allow air to flow in and out of your lungs easily.

If you have mild symptoms, your doctor will prescribe you a short acting bronchodilator, which will make you less breathless. If you have severe airflow limitations and you are demonstrating symptoms everyday, then your doctor will prescribe a long acting bronchodilator. Long acting bronchodilators will last up to 12 hours.

There are different types of bronchodilator available, but the most common ones are beta adrenergic agonists and antimuscarinics. Theophylline is another bronchodilator, yet, it is less beneficial for individual's with COPD.

These bronchodilators are used with inhalers. Doctors will demonstrate how to properly use inhalers for patients that aren't educated the use of inhalers. If you find inhalers difficult to use, a spacer device will be given to you to improve the drug delivery to your lungs.

 2. Corticosteroids or Steroids

If you are troubled by the symptoms, or experiencing regular exacerbations, your doctor will prescribe you a steroid to reduce the swelling in your airways to ease the symptoms.

A drug called prednisolone will be prescribed, and must be taken for two weeks. Moreover, your lung functions will be assessed before and after treatment. If there is an improvement in your lung functions after a few weeks, then prednisolone will be discontinued and replaced by an inhaled corticosteroid. 

Inhaled corticosteroids can cause thrush in your mouth, therefore, remember to rinse your mouth well after using this inhaler.

 3. Antibiotics

Prompt treatment with antibiotics shortens the duration of exacerbations, and should always be given in acute episodes, as this will prevent hospital admissions and further lung damage.

Typically, your doctor might prescribe you antibiotics to be kept at home, and your doctor may urge you to use them as soon as your sputum turns yellow or green in color.

 4. Mucolytic

Your doctor might prescribe you a mucolytic to reduce the thickness of the sputum, and also to reduce the number of acute exacerbations.

5. Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors

A new type of drug given to severe COPD patients is Roflumilast, which is a phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor. It reduces inflammation in your airways and it is often used as an adjunct to bronchodilators.

Other therapies

Your doctor may advise you to follow other therapies, along with medication, to improve your lung functions.

1. Oxygen therapy

If the level of oxygen in your blood drops significantly, you may need supplemental oxygen. Continuous administration of oxygen via a nasal prong, can improve your survival rate and allow you to live longer. There are several devices available that supplement oxygen.

Domiciliary oxygen can be provided with oxygen concentrators and oxygen cylinders. Oxygen concentrators are considerably cheaper than oxygen cylinders.

 2. Pulmonary rehabilitation

These programs include physiotherapy, exercise, and education to improve the general well being of an individual.

 3. Vaccination

Patients with COPD should receive a single dose of pneumococcal vaccine, and yearly influenza vaccinations to prevent future infections.

Surgery

1. Surgical bullectomy

Surgery is an option for people with large emphysematous bullae, which reduce an individual's lung capacity. A surgical bullectomy allows the collapsed areas of the lungs to re-expand and start functioning again.

2. Lung volume reduction surgery

In this surgery, your surgeon will remove small wedges of your affected lungs, creating more space in the chest cavity to enable the healthy lung to expand and function properly. It also helps the diaphragm to work better. This promotes quality of life and prolongs survival.

 3. Single lung transplantation

This surgery is used for patients with end stage emphysema. This improves the quality of life, but does not extend survival. Even though this method helps an individual breathe, this is a major operation and many risks can arise, like organ rejection. You will be on lifelong immune suppressive medication, which will weaken your immune system and make you more prone to infection.