Treating COPD

COPD treatment may improve symptoms, reduce the risk of COPD exacerbations and allow you to do more of the activities you enjoy.

How Is COPD Treated?

Each person's COPD symptoms and treatment options are different. You and your healthcare team will work together to create a treatment plan that works for you. Your treatment plan will help you control your symptoms and know what to do when your COPD gets worse.

There is no cure for COPD, but treatment options may help you: 

  • Better control symptoms
  • Slow the progression of the disease
  • Reduce the risk of exacerbations or flare ups
  • Improve your ability to stay active

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COPD Treatment Options

Quitting smoking is an important part of your COPD treatment plan. The chemicals in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and cigars can further damage your lungs and overtime may cause more symptoms, increase your risk of exacerbations, and decrease your lung function. Continued smoking may make you less responsive to COPD medications. You do not have to quit alone. 

You can find programs, resources and support at Lung.org/quit-smoking.

Medication is often one of the first treatment options prescribed by your healthcare provider. The type of medication your healthcare provider will prescribe depends on your COPD severity or stage. Your COPD stage is determined by your spirometry test results, symptoms, and risk for exacerbation. Medication should be personalized, and you should talk with your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns about the medication. 

Learn more about your medication options.

A pulmonary rehabilitation program offers classes in a small group setting. These programs are often held at hospitals, outpatient clinics, or virtually and supervised by a team of healthcare professionals like doctors, respiratory therapists, exercise specialists and dietitians. Pulmonary rehabilitation combines exercise training, disease management education, social support, nutrition education, and counseling. 

Pulmonary rehab programs may help improve your lung function, reduce symptoms and the risk of hospital admissions, and improve your quality of life. 

Get answers to common questions about pulmonary rehabilitation.

Supplemental oxygen or oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen that flows into your lungs. Not everyone is a candidate for oxygen therapy. Your need for oxygen depends on the results of certain results certain tests like oximetry, arterial blood gas test, exercise test or sleep study.

Depending on how much oxygen you need, your healthcare provider will work with you to determine the type of oxygen delivery device to meet your needs and lifestyle. Supplemental oxygen can help improve your symptoms, organ function, and ability to stay active.

Learn how supplemental oxygen works and get safety tips.

Some people may experience severe chronic hypercapnia or higher levels of CO2 in the blood and have a history of hospitalization because of acute respiratory failure. In select candidates, non-invasive ventilation is a form of noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) and may decrease mortality and prevent re-hospitalization. NPPV can be used at home and help with the breathing process through a face mask. If you have COPD and obstructive sleep apnea, you should talk to your healthcare provider about using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

Endobronchial valve therapy or EBVs are a non-surgical approach for select people living with advanced COPD and emphysema breathe easier. EBVs are removable, one-way valves that reduce lung hyperinflation by allowing the trapped air to escape. Not everyone is a candidate for EBV treatment. 

Learn what questions to ask your healthcare provider about EBVs.

Some people with very severe COPD symptoms may have a hard time breathing all of the time. In some of these cases, healthcare providers may suggest lung surgery to improve breathing. Surgical options may include bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplant. Not everyone is a candidate for lung surgery. 

Understand what should be considered before surgery and the different types of procedures.

Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people. Each study answers scientific questions and tries to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose or treat a disease. People who take part in clinical trials for COPD have an opportunity to contribute to knowledge of and progress against COPD. They also receive up-to-date care from experts. 

Learn more about clinical trials for COPD.

Complementary therapies refer to the many therapies, philosophies and practices that are not considered conventional or standard medical care in the United States. Some examples of complementary therapy include massage, yoga and acupuncture. These techniques cannot treat COPD but may be able to improve symptoms and quality of life.

Always discuss these techniques with your care team before you participate.

Palliative care is a specialty in medicine that focuses on relieving the discomfort of symptoms, anxiety, pain and stress that accompany serious illnesses like COPD. It is available to you from the moment you are diagnosed and through the entire course of your illness. Palliative care provides supportive care to help improve your quality of life by relieving the physical and emotional symptoms of COPD and improves communication with your healthcare team. 

Learn more about the benefits of palliative care.

Advanced directives are medical treatment and care decisions written out ahead of time. It includes completing a Power of Attorney or identifying someone who you know and trust to make healthcare decisions for you and a Living Will which outlines your end-of-life medical choices. 

Read more about end of life care and managing advanced lung disease.

Warning about over the counter (OTC) portable oxygen concentrators: You may have seen online advertisements for non-prescription, portable oxygen concentrators (POCs). While these are often more affordable, if you have a lung disease like COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, which requires you to use prescription oxygen, these OTC devices may not meet your oxygen needs and it would be important to speak with your health provider before purchasing.

Learn more about portable oxygen concentrators at Lung.org or contact the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872 and press 2) or submit a question.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: April 3, 2024

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