If you’re like a lot of people with COPD, your medicine cabinet is filled with a wide variety of COPD medications, some you’re still using and some that you’re not. But do you actually know which medications do what? And if so, is your current medication regimen working to alleviate your COPD symptoms so you can breathe more comfortably and maintain or increase your physical activity? If not, perhaps it’s time for your doctor to switch things up a bit.
COPD Medication Guidelines
To follow are the COPD medications currently recommended by the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) for COPD treatment as of January, 2015. If you open your medicine chest and none, or very few, of the following are present, talk to your health care provider about updating your COPD treatment program today:
Bronchospasm – that tightening of the chest, throat clenching, gasping for breath feeling that people with COPD live with every day. Thankfully, spasms caused by COPD and other lung conditions are often relieved with medications known as bronchodilators. These handy little devils relax and widen the breathing passages to such a degree that air flows more easily through them. They are an essential part of COPD treatment and can be used alone or in combination with another bronchodilator and/or corticosteroid for greater relief of symptoms.
Corticosteroids, or steroids for short, reduce redness and inflammation in the breathing passages resulting in fewer COPD symptoms, improved lung function, and fewer COPD flare-ups. GOLD guidelines recommend inhaled corticosteroids over treatment with oral steroids to decrease the risk of infection and other adverse side effects associated with long-term use.
Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitors (PDE4s)
PDE4s are relatively new in the world of COPD medications compared to other medications like bronchodilators or steroids. PDE4s focus on reducing inflammation, which is thought to play a key role in the development of many diseases, including COPD. They may also decrease the frequency of COPD flare-ups.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “an antibiotic a day helps keep the doctor away”. Well, it may work for apples but it still doesn’t apply to COPD treatment guidelines as set forth by GOLD. Although several studies have shown that daily use of antibiotics helps reduce the frequency and duration of COPD flare-ups, GOLD guidelines recommend only taking them if you have a lung infection that’s the result of a bacterial infection. Why’s that? Antibiotics aren’t effective in treating COPD flare-ups caused by viruses like the cold or flu.
Most people in the United States have had early childhood vaccinations. But did you know that some vaccinations require a booster if it’s been a while since you were last vaccinated? If you’re not up-to-date on the standard vaccinations such as measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) or tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) ask your provider if you’d benefit from a booster shot.
The following vaccinations are recommended on a precautionary basis for all COPD patients, unless your doctor tells you otherwise:
- Flu vaccine – Given annually, reduces the risk of serious illness and death associated with COPD.
- Pneumonia vaccine – Recommended for adults 65 and older or between the ages of 2 and 64 with the following conditions: COPD, asthma (19 years and older) alcoholism, chronic liver disease, certain heart diseases, diabetes, cigarette smokers (19 years and older), and people who are candidates or recipients of a cochlear implant.
- Pneumonia Vaccine Revaccination Guidelines: Adults younger than 65 who are at high risk for serious complications associated with pneumonia (like people with COPD) should get two doses of the pneumonia vaccine, 5 years apart, with a 3rd dose after they turn 65 (if at least 5 years has passed since the last dose).
Not every patient with COPD needs oxygen therapy. If you do, you’ll be happy to know it has many benefits, including:
- Improving mood and quality of sleep.
- Increasing the capacity to exercise.
- Relieving symptoms, especially the perception of breathlessness.
- Improving survival for some patients (when used 15 hours a day or more).
Remember: the very portable Inogen One G3 and the easy to use Inogen At Home make the perfect on-the-go or home companions for those who need supplemental oxygen and want to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.
Other COPD Treatment Options
In addition to COPD medications, your health care provider may recommend the following adjunct treatments for COPD:
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – Increases survival, improves COPD symptoms, increases exercise capacity, and improves quality of life for some COPD patients. Recommended for all COPD patients, no matter how severe the disease.
- Continuous positive airway pressure – A type of advanced oxygen therapy delivered by a machine that keeps the breathing passages open by delivering air and oxygen under pressure. Improves oxygen status and reduces carbon dioxide in the blood. It may also prolong the need for an artificial breathing machine.
- Lung Surgery – If you don’t respond to standard COPD treatment and you meet very strict criteria, you may be a candidate for lung surgery. Your health care provider can give you more information about the different types of lung surgery available for people with COPD.