Coping with COPD

Published: November 01, 2023
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

There are 2 types of COPD—emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema occurs when there is damage to the air sacs in the lungs making it harder for your lungs to move air out of your body. Chronic bronchitis is caused by irritation and inflammation in the lining of the airways that produces a thick mucus, making it hard to breathe. Many people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but the contribution of each type will vary from person to person.

Symptoms of COPD include frequent coughing or a cough that produces a lot of mucus, wheezing or a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe, shortness of breath (especially with physical activity), and tightness in your chest.

What factors can cause COPD?
The main risk factor for COPD is smoking - up to 75% of people with COPD smoke or have a history of smoking.

Other risk factors include exposure to other lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes and dusts; older age (over 40 years of age); a family history of COPD; and in some cases, having asthma.

How is COPD managed?
There are treatments to manage the symptoms of COPD, and these will vary based on the severity of your condition. Although COPD cannot be cured, treatment can decrease the frequency and severity of symptoms and increase your ability to move and exercise.

If you smoke, the first step for the management of COPD is to quit smoking. Your doctor or pharmacist can suggest products and programs to assist you in quitting. Medications for management of COPD include inhaled medications to relax your airways (bronchodilators) or to decrease inflammation of your lungs (steroids). Proper use of inhalers is important to the success of your treatment—see this helpful guide to use of inhalers. If you have low levels of oxygen in your blood, your doctor may recommend supplemental oxygen. In some severe cases, surgical procedures may be necessary.

To prevent worsening of COPD, it is recommended to get a yearly flu vaccine and to be immunized against pneumonia with a pneumococcal vaccine. It is also important to see your doctor if you develop worsening of symptoms from a respiratory illness.

Can you prevent COPD?
You can help to prevent COPD by not smoking; if you are a smoker you should quit. It's also important to try to avoid lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust exposures.

Management of COPD symptoms is important to maintain your quality of life. Your pharmacist can help you learn to use your inhalers properly, provide vaccines, and help you to quit smoking. Be sure to tell them about any changes in symptoms and if you are having any problems using your inhalers.

Related Articles

subscribe section background