Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. It can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
There are many medicines available for the treatment of COPD. Some of these medicines can be taken as pills or capsules. Some are inhaled as a mist or a powder. Different types of medications work in different ways. It’s important to understand how your breathing medications work so you can get the most out of them.
Most people with COPD need to take some medicines every day, even if they are breathing well. These are controller medications. When you take inhaled controller medications, your breathing doesn’t feel better right away. These medicines are meant to work in the long term, keeping your lungs open so you can breathe as well as possible, and stay active every day. They can help prevent you from becoming sick with a serious breathing problem (acute exacerbation of COPD) that may require you to stay in the hospital.
There are different medications your doctor may prescribe. Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your airways to open them and make breathing easier. Depending on the severity of your COPD, your doctor may prescribe short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators. Most bronchodilators are taken using a device called an inhaler. This device allows the medicine to go straight to your lungs.
Rescue inhalers go to work right away. You should feel relief in less than a minute. Rescue inhalers are good to have, but letting your lungs get tight, then rushing in with a rescue inhaler is not the best way to treat COPD. Follow your medication schedule and take your controller medicines every day, even when you’re feeling fine. If your COPD is under good control, you should not have to rely on rescue inhalers more than a couple times a week.
Keep track of how long your inhalers last, and refill your prescriptions with time to spare so you don’t run out. Show a respiratory health professional how you take your inhaler, and learn the best technique so you get the most benefit from your inhaled medications.
All medicines can have side effects. Tell your health care provider about all the medicines you take so you can talk together about them.