Take charge of your COPD

Make the most of your COPD medications, and start feeling better, with these tips

Senior woman doing yoga at home

If you've been told that you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), that means you're more likely to experience shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing than the average person. Despite that diagnosis, with the proper care and regular checkups with your medical team, COPD is manageable. Most individuals with COPD can partake in their usual activities and control their symptoms with medications. 

However, it's important that you describe your symptoms in full to your care team, including how often they flare up and under what circumstances. This will ensure your doctor can tailor a treatment plan to your unique needs. Once your care team decides on a treatment plan, it will be up to you to take your medications regularly and as prescribed. 

Here are a couple of the treatments that are most often used to help manage COPD, in addition to the best ways to use them. 

1. Bronchodilators: control or reduce effects of COPD
Bronchodilators are used to control or reduce the effects of COPD. These drugs relax the muscles around your airways, which opens the airways and eases breathing. There are two types of bronchodilators: short-acting and long-acting. Short-acting bronchodilators are used when symptoms first appear. They work for about four to six hours. Long-acting bronchodilators are generally taken every day to help prevent breathing problems from starting. They work for about 12 hours or more.

Most bronchodilators are taken using an inhaler, a device that allows the medicine to be delivered into your lungs. Your health care team will show you the right way to use your inhaler. Bronchodilators can also be given orally.

2. Inhaled Corticosteroids: reduce inflammation and improve lung function
If your COPD is more severe or you often have symptom flare-ups, your doctor may prescribe an inhaled corticosteroid. Steroids help reduce inflammation in the airways and can improve lung function. Regular use can reduce the frequency of flare-ups. Your doctor might also prescribe a combination of an inhaled corticosteroid and bronchodilator.

Four ways to make the most out of your COPD medications
Taking the right medicine at the right time will help you keep your COPD under control. Stick to a schedule to keep symptoms from flaring up, and follow these tips to avoid a trip to the hospital:

  1. Take your medicine at set times each day, such as after certain meals or while the coffee is brewing. Write your schedule on a calendar or in a notebook, or use a smartphone app.
  2. Use a seven-day pillbox with sections for both morning and evening. Set an alarm on your watch or smartphone to remind you to take your medicine.
  3. Set a reminder to order your medications or inhaler before they run out. This also allows you time to get new prescriptions if they are needed.
  4. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you feel side effects from your medicine.