COPD Medications

There are many kinds of COPD medications. People who have COPD might need to take a number of them. It’s important to know what the medications are, when to use them, and how to take them.

COPD Medication Plans

Doctors create medication plans based on a patient’s needs and symptoms. COPD medication plans are an important part of an overall treatment plan. A COPD treatment plan usually consists of medications as well as non-medication therapies.

COPD medications help people manage their disease by:

  1. Preventing and controlling symptoms
  2. Reducing the frequency and worsening of COPD symptoms
  3. Improving breathing
  4. Improving the ability to exercise.

"Controller" Medications

These are medications that are taken every day to help manage and prevent the symptoms of COPD. These drugs help ease breathing by preventing swelling and mucus build-up in the airways.

"Reliever" Medications

These are sometimes called “quick-relief” or “rescue” medications. They are taken during a COPD flare-up when a person is coughing, wheezing, or having trouble breathing. These drugs work to relax muscles in the airways to ease breathing.

COPD Medication Devices

COPD medications come in many different types of devices. These include metered dose inhalers, dry powder inhalers and nebulizers.

Metered dose inhalers can contain quick-relief medication or long-term controller medication. It is important to know which medication your metered dose inhaler contains, because the two types of medications have different functions.

Dry powder inhalers are a type of long-term controller medication. This type of medication works slowly to reduce swelling and mucus in the airways.

Nebulizers are small air compressors used to administer medication. The user puts a nebulizer mask on his or her face or uses a mouthpiece to breathe in mists of air mixed with medication.

It is important to practice how to use COPD medication devices with a health care provider. You can also find instructions for using these medication devices in the COPD section of our Library and in Respiratory Health Association’s COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit — coming soon.

Other Medications

You or the person you care for may be taking other medications for a recent COPD flare-up or for other reasons. The medications prescribed are intended to work with your COPD management plan or the plan of the person you care for. Other medication can be used short-term or even long-term, depending on what your health care provider thinks is best.

Work with your health care provider to ensure that your medications for COPD and other health conditions are working properly together.


For more resources, check out the COPD section of our Library.