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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Medical Treatment

Treatment of COPD often includes medicines to help make breathing easier and preventive vaccines to decrease the chances of contracting infections that can make COPD worse.


The symptoms of COPD are often treated with medications that open the airways, either by causing airway dilation (making them wider) or by lessening the inflammation. There are two categories of medications typically used to treat COPD:


The medications used to dilate, or make the airways wider, are called bronchodilators. They relax the muscles around your airways, which helps open your airways and make breathing easier.

There are two types of bronchodilators—short-acting and long-acting. The effects of short-acting bronchodilators last about 4 to 6 hours. They should only be used on an as-needed basis. If you are using them too frequently, they can cause problems. The effects of long-acting bronchodilators typically last at least 12 hours, and they are prescribed to be used every day, twice a day.

Bronchodilators are commonly referred to as inhalers. The name inhaler refers to the device that helps deliver the bronchodilator medicines to your lungs. Proper use of inhalers is important, so be sure to ask your healthcare provider how to correctly use yours.

Inhaled Glucocorticosteroids (Steroids)

Inhaled steroids are used to reduce airway inflammation, which helps people breathe more easily. They are often prescribed to people with COPD who are experiencing an increase or flare up of symptoms.

Inhaled steroids are not the same as the anabolic steroids often discussed in sports. They will not bulk up your muscles, and they are generally considered safe when used as prescribed.


It's important that people who suffer from COPD take precautions to avoid illness and infection. This is because a cold, the flu, pneumonia and other infections that affect the airways are more dangerous to people with lung disease.

Influenza Vaccine (Flu Shot)

Most healthcare providers suggest that everyone receive a seasonal influenza vaccine every year. It's especially important for people with COPD and other lung disease to receive one. If you have COPD, we encourage you to get your influenza vaccine early to avoid serious complications of the flu.

Pneumococcal Vaccine (Pneumonia Vaccine)

This vaccine is given to reduce the risk of contracting certain types of pneumonia. People with COPD are at higher risk for getting pneumonia and can experience more severe cases. If you have COPD, talk to your healthcare provider about whether a pneumococcal vaccine is right for you.

Contact Us

If you have or think you may have COPD, we urge you to seek treatment as soon as possible. If you don’t have a physician, and you’d like to make an appointment with someone who understands COPD and how to successfully manage it, you may do so by calling our Physician Referral Department at 1-877-926-4664. You may also request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateJune 6, 2011