Can an Inhaler Help With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 09, 2016
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Can an inhaler help with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)?

Expert Answers

Norman Edelman, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of the American Lung Association, is also a professor of preventive medicine, internal medicine, and physiology and biophysics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the school's former Dean of Medicine

Yes, inhalers -- simple devices used to deliver medication to the lungs in aerosol form -- are key to managing COPD symptoms. In fact, it's likely you'll end up with more than one type of inhaler. Doctors prescribe inhalers to patients with COPD for long-term therapy and short-term relief.

One of the most effective ways to control COPD symptoms is to use an inhaler that contains a bronchodilator, a medication that relaxes the muscles around the air passages, opening them up. Keep in mind that there are two types of bronchodilators: long-acting and short-acting. (Some bronchodilators are available as oral medications, but these are very rarely used for COPD.)

Two types of medicine come in short-acting bronchodilators: beta-agonists, which take 10 to 15 minutes to work, and antimuscarinics, which take 30 to 40 minutes to work. For some people, using one of each works best.

Long-acting bronchodilators typically last up to 12 hours per dose. There are long-acting antimuscarinic and beta-agonist bronchodilators. Often doctors prescribe a long-acting bronchodilator when the effects of the short-acting inhaler aren't lasting long enough.

Another type of inhaler contains a corticosteroid, which helps decrease inflammation in the airways. Again, your doctor can prescribe either an oral or an inhaled steroid, but most COPD patients have steroid inhalers as part of their tool kit. Experts are still conducting studies to determine whether using steroid-based inhalers can prevent or slow long-term decline in lung function. However, in the short term, corticosteroid inhalers are beneficial for some COPD patients. Using an inhaler containing a corticosteroid has been shown to decrease the frequency of exacerbations.

However, long-term use of steroids can cause serious side effects, including an increased risk of pneumonia, so doctors recommend using a steroid inhaler primarily for exacerbations. One caution: It's important to rinse out your mouth after using a steroid inhaler to avoid getting a type of yeast infection called thrush.