COPD Medications

There are a variety of medicines available to treat COPD. What is important to know is that there is no “best” medicine for all people. Each person’s COPD is different and your doctor and health care team will work with you to set up the best plan for you, based upon your symptoms and your needs. By taking the right medicine at the right time, you can:

  • Breathe better
  • Do more of the things you want to do
  • Have fewer flare-ups

Here are the types of medicines usually prescribed for COPD.


Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways (breathing tubes). When the airways are more open, it is easier to breathe. There are two general types of bronchodilators, and you may be prescribed one or more types:

Short-Acting bronchodilators work quickly after you take them so that you feel relief from symptoms quickly.

Long-Acting bronchodilators have effects that last a long time. They should not be used for quick relief.


Anti-Inflammatory medicines help by reducing the swelling and mucus production inside the airways. When that inflammation is reduced, it is easier to breathe. These medicines are also called corticosteroids or steroids. Most often these are inhaled medications and it is important to rinse out your mouth with water immediately after using them to avoid getting a yeast infection in your throat called thrush.

Some corticosteroids are in pill form and usually are used for short periods of time in special circumstances such, as when your symptoms are getting worse.


There are a few medicines that combine inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids.


People with COPD can have flare-ups that may be caused by bacterial or viral infections. Your doctor may want you to have a prescription for an antibiotic or an anti-viral that you keep on hand and that you will be told to get filled in the event of an infection coming on.

It is important to take any antibiotic exactly as prescribed and to take it all, even if you start to feel better before it is all used up. If you do not take it all, the infection may come back and be even stronger and harder to treat.


With COPD you are at greater risk for serious complications from influenza (flu) and pneumonia. To protect yourself against the flu you should be immunized every year. The seasonal flu virus changes slightly every year and that is why the flu shot is given every year. Click here for more information about the flu vaccine. The pneumonia vaccine is important to get at least once, and sometimes a booster shot is recommended. Ask your doctor if it is time for your pneumonia shot.


COPD medicines do not cure COPD but they can help improve your symptoms.

Take your medicines exactly as directed: That means the Right medicine at the Right time! Set up a system that will work best for you and the people who help care for you.

  • Make a medicine chart showing what you take and when
  • Set an alarm to ring
  • Use a weekly pill box that has sections for each day and different times of the day
  • Ask a friend or family member to help you with organizing your "system"
  • Connect taking your medicine with your routine habits, such as before or after certain meals or when you brush your teeth in the morning or evening

If you are having problems with your symptoms or are not sure if you are taking your medicine correctly or if you are experiencing bothersome side effects, talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team. They can help make sure you understand the correct way to take the medicine or may want to make some adjustments in the medicines you are taking.