Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD refers to a group of respiratory diseases characterized by blockage of the airways and difficulty in breathing. The most common respiratory conditions that fall into the group are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The damage caused by COPD to the respiratory system is irreversible and there is no complete cure for the condition. Most of the treatment options for this condition focus on reducing the symptoms and slowing down the progression of the disease. A number of therapies are now available to reduce the risk of complications due to COPD.
The first step in the successful treatment of the condition is to quit smoking. This will help to rein in the progress of the disease and prevents the symptoms from worsening. If you have tried quitting the habit but was unsuccessful, nicotine replacement products and medications may be useful. Passive smoking or second hand smoking also should be avoided as much as possible.
Medications are a popular choice to alleviate the symptoms and to reduce the complications associated with COPD.
Some of the common medications used include:
- Bronchodilators – These drugs help to relax the muscles present around the air passages and to reduce cough. As the airway relaxes, breathing becomes easier. One can decide between two different types of bronchodilators – short-acting or long-acting – for specific uses.
- Steroids – Corticosteroids are recommended to reduce the inflammation of the airway and are available in oral and inhaled form. Inhaled corticosteroids are ideal to reduce exacerbations. For moderate to severe exacerbations, oral corticosteroids are recommended. These steroids come with some side effects like hoarseness of voice, oral infections, weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis, and bruising. In some cases bronchodilators are used in combination with steroids, particularly in inhalers.
- Theophylline – This is yet another popular medication to control exacerbations and to ease breathing.
- Antibiotics – Antibiotics are recommended to control infections like acute bronchitis, pneumonia, and influenza that may increase the symptoms of the condition.
Oxygen therapy is often used when the supply of this gas is reduced considerably due to the constricted airways. Small portable units are used to supply oxygen as and when needed or continuously. A therapy that combines exercises, education, nutrition and counseling, called pulmonary rehabilitation program, is recommended to improve the quality of life of those suffering from this respiratory condition.
In some cases, exacerbations of symptoms may be noticed while the person is on treatment. It may be caused by any of the triggers of inflammation, air pollution or an infection. Immediate medical help is required during these exacerbations to avoid complications. Following this, one should have long-acting bronchodilators or inhaled steroids to prevent further flare-ups.