COPD Treatment

If you are diagnosed with COPD, your healthcare provider will determine your treatment plan based on what your symptoms are and whether you have mild or severe COPD.

Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is the most important step you can take to help slow the progression of COPD. Talk with your provider about programs and products that can help you quit.

If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking. Ask your family members and friends to support you in your efforts to quit.


Medicines to treat COPD symptoms include bronchodilators and a combination of bronchodilators and steroids. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an inhaler for you to carry at all times. Inhalers allow the medicine to go straight to your lungs. Not all inhalers are used the same way. Ask your provider to show you the correct way to use your inhaler.

  • If your COPD is mild and you don’t have symptoms often, your provider may prescribe a short-acting bronchodilator that you take only when you have symptoms. Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your airways, opening them up to help make breathing easier. Short-acting bronchodilators last about 4 to 6 hours.
  • If your COPD is moderate or severe, you may need long-acting bronchodilators that last about 12 hours or more. You take these every day.
  • If your COPD is severe or your symptoms flare up often, your provider may prescribe a combination of bronchodilators and an inhaled steroid. Steroids help reduce the inflammation or swelling in your airways that makes it hard to breathe.

Your provider may ask you to try inhaled steroids with the bronchodilator for a trial period of 6 weeks to 3 months to see whether the addition of the steroids helps you breathe better.

Research is currently ongoing to treat inflammation in COPD.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a supervised program that includes exercise training, health education, and breathing techniques for people who have certain lung conditions, have lung problems due to other conditions, or have had a lung transplant. Your provider may talk to you about pulmonary rehabilitation to help you breathe easier and improve your quality of life. Learn more about pulmonary rehabilitation.

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy is a treatment that delivers oxygen for you to breathe. If you qualify for oxygen therapy, you will receive it from tubes resting in your nose, a face mask, or a tube placed in your trachea (windpipe). You may need oxygen therapy if you have a condition that causes your blood oxygen levels to be too low.

Oxygen therapy can be given for a short or long period of time in the hospital, in another medical setting, or at home. Oxygen poses a fire risk, so you should never smoke or use flammable materials when using oxygen. You may experience side effects from this treatment, such as a dry or bloody nose, tiredness, and morning headaches. Oxygen therapy is generally safe.


Surgery may benefit some people who have COPD. Surgery usually is a last resort for people who have severe symptoms that have not improved from taking medicines.

  • Bullectomy removes one or more very large bullae from the lungs. Bullae are larger air spaces that form when the walls of the air sacs are destroyed. These air spaces can become so large that they interfere with breathing.
  • One-way endobronchial valves can be implanted in one of your bronchial tubes. These valves allow air to exit the damaged or diseased parts of the lung, but not reenter.
  • Lung volume reduction surgery removes damaged tissue from the lungs and helps the lungs work better.

Lung transplant

A lung transplant is surgery to remove a diseased lung and replace it with a healthy lung. Lung transplants are used to improve quality of life and extend the lifespan for people who have severe or advanced chronic lung conditions that do not respond to other treatments.

During a lung transplant, you will be given general anesthesia and will not be awake for the surgery. A surgeon will open your chest, cut the main airway and blood vessels, and remove your diseased lung. The surgeon will connect the healthy donor lung, reconnect the blood vessels, and close your chest. After the surgery, you will recover in the hospital for 1 to 3 weeks. After leaving the hospital, you will visit your healthcare provider often to make sure that you are recovering well.

To help prevent your body from rejecting the new lung, you will need to take medicines that suppress your  immune system  for the rest of your life. Practicing good hygiene, getting annual vaccines, and adopting healthy lifestyle choices such as heart-healthy eating and not smoking are also very important.

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