COPD Treatment

What are the options for COPD Treatment?

copd treatmentWhen it is time for you to discuss COPD treatment options, your doctor will likely have you complete a diagnostic test to ascertain what stage your COPD is at currently and how to best treat it. Each stage requires a different level of treatment and you may need new COPD medications or other COPD therapy as your disease progresses. Regular monitoring of your COPD is the best way to provide the most effective and thorough COPD treatment.[1] So how does your health care team decide which COPD treatments are right for you? Read on to find out more.

Testing for COPD[1]

To diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your doctor will evaluate your symptoms, ask for your complete health history, conduct a health exam and examine test results.  Your doctor will want to know if you:

  • Smoke or have a history of smoking
  • Are exposed to secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust
  • Have symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic cough or lots of mucus
  • Have family members who have had COPD

COPD) is diagnosed through a basic lung test called spirometry.  Spirometry is a simple test of how well your lungs work. For this test, you blow air into a mouthpiece and tubing attached to a small machine. The machine measures the amount of air you blow out and how fast you can blow it.  Spirometry can detect COPD before symptoms develop. Your doctor also might use the test results to find out how severe your COPD is and to help set your treatment goals.

You will likely be asked to complete this test multiple times throughout the course of your disease to keep track of how quickly your COPD is progressing. As your COPD progresses through the stages, your COPD treatments will need to progress with you. The information derived from these tests can help your health care provider team adjust your COPD treatment options as necessary.

Your doctor may also want you to have a chest X-ray and/or other tests, such as an arterial blood gas test, which measures the oxygen level in your blood. This test can show how well your lungs are able to move oxygen into your blood and remove carbon dioxide from your blood.

Deciding How to Treat COPD

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with COPD, you are probably wondering, “What is the treatment for COPD?” While there is no cure for COPD, the goal of COPD treatment is to slow disease progression, reduce symptoms, prevent COPD flare-ups and improve quality of life. When you are diagnosed with COPD, you likely will have many questions and the answers may not always be clear at first. Not all people with COPD have the same symptoms and treatment may differ from person to person. It is important to talk to your doctor to get answers to all of your questions, review the COPD treatment options and develop an individualized COPD treatment plan.

Depending on how advanced your disease, the COPD treatment guidelines may recommend that your COPD treatment options include a combination of any of the following COPD treatments:

Smoking Cessation[2]

The most important of the COPD treatment options, no matter which version of COPD treatment guidelines you consult, is for anyone who smokes to quit smoking as soon as possible. Stopping smoking can keep COPD from getting worse and reducing your ability to breathe. But quitting smoking isn’t easy. And this task may seem particularly daunting if you’ve tried to quit and have been unsuccessful. Talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement products and medications that might help, as well as how to handle relapses. Your doctor may also recommend a support group for people who want to quit smoking. Also, avoid secondhand smoke exposure whenever possible.

Additionally, whether you are a smoker or a non-smoker, you should avoid all airway irritants, such as secondhand smoke, indoor and outdoor air pollution and dust and chemicals in the workplace, as they can worsen your COPD symptoms and that may reduce the efficacy of your COPD treatments.

Physical activity[3]

Regular exercise is an important treatment for people with COPD. Talk with your doctor about what types of activities are best for you and your COPD therapy. You may find being active has become more difficult with your COPD symptoms.  However, staying active can also keep the muscles that help you breathe stronger—and therefore help you breathe more easily. Talk to your health care team about which exercises are recommended for you. Whether you choose to walk, do gentle yoga or incorporate daily stretches, these COPD treatments will help improve your stamina and keep your muscles strong and limber without worsening breathlessness.


COPD medications are also common COPD treatments as they help reduce symptoms and prevent complications. By taking the right medicine at the right time, you can breathe better, do more of the things you enjoy and have fewer flare-ups or exacerbations.  The following are the most common medications given in COPD treatment: [2]  

  •  Bronchodilators  relax the breathing passages, making it easier to breathe. Depending on the severity of your COPD, your doctor may prescribe short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators, or a combination of the two. Bronchodilators usually are prescribed as inhalers.
  • Inhaled Corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the air passages. Regular treatment with inhaled corticosteroids improves symptoms and quality of life, increases lung function and reduces the risk of COPD exacerbation. Inhaled corticosteroids can be given alone or in combination with a long-acting bronchodilator.
  • Oral steroids prescribed in short courses (for example, five days) may prevent further worsening of COPD for patients who experience moderate or severe acute exacerbations.   Long-term use of these medications may have serious side effects such as weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis, cataracts and an increased risk of infection.
  • A phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor is approved for people with severe COPD and symptoms of chronic bronchitis.  It decreases airway inflammation and relaxes the airways. Common side effects include diarrhea and weight loss.
  • Theophylline is a less expensive medication when other treatments have been ineffective or if cost is a factor.  It may help improve breathing and prevent episodes of worsening COPD.  Side effects are dose related and may include nausea, headache, fast heartbeat and tremor, so tests are used to monitor blood levels of the medication.
  • Antibiotic use in COPD treatment is limited to cases of COPD exacerbation that are caused by a bacterial respiratory infection. Antibiotics are not effective in treating exacerbations caused by viruses.

Oxygen Therapy for COPD

If there isn’t enough oxygen in your blood, you may need supplemental oxygen therapy. There are several devices that deliver oxygen to your lungs, including lightweight, portable units that you can take with you to run errands and get around town.   Some people with COPD use oxygen only during activities or while sleeping. Others use oxygen all the time. Oxygen therapy can improve quality of life and is the only COPD therapy proved to extend life. Talk to your doctor about your needs and options. [2]

Oxygen comes in gas or liquid form. Oxygen systems may be large and stationary for home use, or small and portable. Types of oxygen therapy delivery systems include: [4]

  • Compressed gas: A large, metal cylinder stores 100% oxygen as a gas under pressure. The cylinder has a regulator to control the flow of oxygen. An oxygen-conserving device sends oxygen when you inhale and stops oxygen flow when you exhale. These tanks eventually run out of oxygen. A gauge shows the tank’s oxygen levels. When the tank is empty, an oxygen supplier replaces it. You should always have extra oxygen tanks on hand.
  • Liquid oxygen: A thermos-like container stores pure oxygen as a very cold liquid. When you release the oxygen, the liquid converts to a gas that you breathe in. The smaller container makes it portable for use outside the home.
  • Oxygen concentrators: This electric or battery-powered device pulls air from the room. It then separates and compresses oxygen from the air, while also removing nitrogen. You breathe in the purified air. With a concentrator, you’ll never run out of oxygen. Concentrators are the easiest portable system to travel with. And many models are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), so you can even take them on planes.

Depending on your medical condition and oxygen needs, you may get oxygen via a: [4]

  • A nasal cannula (small plastic tubes placed in each nostril).
  • A face mask (which fits over your mouth and nose).
  • A small tube inserted into your windpipe via an incision in the front of your neck (transtracheal oxygen therapy).

Flu and Pneumonia Vaccines

Prevention is an essential aspect of how to treat COPD and should be part of your COPD treatment plan.  Be sure to get your annual flu vaccine in the fall to help prevent infections that can worsen your COPD. Ask your doctor when you need the pneumococcal vaccine. Let your doctor know if you have worsening symptoms or you notice signs of infection. [2] Based on current evidence, [5] annual immunization against the influenza virus and pneumo­coccus is recommended to avoid serious acute exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  Talk to your doctor about getting your flu and pneumonia vaccines as soon as possible each year to support your other COPD treatments.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation[2]

These programs generally combine education, exercise training, nutrition advice and counseling. Your health care professionals—doctors, nurses, physical therapists, respiratory specialists and nutritionists, will work together to tailor your rehabilitation program to meet your needs.  Pulmonary rehabilitation after episodes of worsening COPD may reduce readmission to the hospital, increase your ability to participate in everyday activities and improve your quality of life. Talk to your doctor about referral to a program.

Lung Surgery[2]

Lung surgery is not the most common of the COPD treatments, but it may benefit some people who have COPD. It is often a last resort for people with severe symptoms that have not experienced any improvement from other methods of COPD therapy or treatment.

There are four possible types of surgery that your doctor may recommend:

  • Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) removes small wedges of damaged lung tissue from the upper lungs. This creates extra space in your chest cavity so that the remaining healthier lung tissue can expand and the diaphragm can work more efficiently. In some people, this surgery can improve quality of life and prolong survival.
  • Bronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR), a minimally invasive procedure, has recently been approved by the U.S. FDA to treat people with COPD. A tiny one-way endobronchial valve is placed in the lung, allowing the most damaged lobe to shrink so that the healthier part of the lung has more space to expand and function.
  • Lung transplantation may be an option for certain people who meet specific criteria. Transplantation can improve your ability to breathe and to be active. However, it’s a major operation that has significant risks, such as organ rejection, and you’ll need to take lifelong immune-suppressing medications.
  • Bullectomy surgically removes bullae from the lungs to help improve air flow. Large air spaces (bullae) form in the lungs when the walls of the air sacs (alveoli) are destroyed.

How Inogen Can Help with COPD

When you first learn that you have COPD, you will probably ask your doctor, “How do you treat COPD?” Take your time and ask about all your COPD treatment options, including COPD medications, COPD therapy and oxygen machines for COPD. [2]   The good news is that the COPD treatment guidelines usually incorporate a number of different therapies, and you have quite a few options. Once you learn about how to treat COPD, one of your options may be oxygen therapy. If so, Inogen can help with your COPD treatment.

Inogen One portable oxygen concentrators are a compact, lightweight device for supplemental oxygen at home or away. Oxygen therapy used to mean being tethered to a stationary oxygen system or hauling around heavy oxygen tanks and carefully calculating outings to prepare for refills.[6] Inogen has designed a portable oxygen concentrator that requires no refills and no heavy tanks, and can be used at home or on the go, all day, every day, for your COPD treatments. The Inogen One oxygen concentrator is designed for travel portability and can be powered by a rechargeable battery or an AC or DC power source.  Inogen One oxygen concentrators provide patients peace of mind when outside their home and away from their stationary concentrator.  Talk to your doctor and find out how Inogen can help with your COPD treatment.    Contact us to find how Inogen may help treat your COPD today.


  1. COPD Symptoms and Diagnosis | American Lung Association
  2. COPD – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic
  3. Physical Activity and COPD | American Lung Association
  5. Prevalence of influenza and pneumococcal vaccination in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients in association with the occurrence of acute exacerbations – PMC (
  6. lung.org_lung-health-diseases_lung-procedures-and-tests_oxygen-therapy_tanks

Additional Sources

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