About COPD

Millions of people have COPD, but it’s not the same for everyone

You may also have heard COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) called chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. It’s a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. Progressive means the disease gets worse over time. While many people have COPD, it does not affect everyone in the same way.

Quick facts:

Shortness of breath

Chronic cough

Excess mucus

Chest tightness


Fatigue and disrupted sleep

  • Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are common
  • Other symptoms like chest tightness, excess mucus, disrupted sleep and fatigue can also occur
  • You may feel that you never know when symptoms will crop up

The good news is that there are things you can do to help manage your COPD.

  • Avoid smoking or breathing in other lung irritants. For example, secondhand smoke or air pollutants can further irritate your damaged lungs. Maintain a healthy weight and eat nutritious foods, practice good hygiene to help avoid getting sick, write down how you’re feeling physically and emotionally—and talk to your doctor about it

If you’re experiencing COPD symptoms, talk to your doctor about options for maintenance medications.

Treatments: What you need to know

There are different types of COPD medicines

  • Maintenance (long-acting) medicines
    • Taken every day and work over time to help control symptoms
  • Rescue (short-acting) medicines
    • Relieve sudden symptoms, but aren’t meant to be taken every day

Remember, it's important to keep a rescue medicine close by, even when maintenance medicines work well. Not sure if you are on a maintenance medicine? Talk to your doctor.

COPD medicines are generally delivered through a nebulizer or inhaler

  • Nebulizer
    • Gets medicine into your lungs in a fine mist while you breathe calmly, deeply, and evenly through a mouthpiece until the mist is gone
    • Requires setup and cleaning
  • Inhaler
    • Compact and portable
    • May require you to hold your breath for up to 10 seconds after you activate the device

Some COPD patients prefer using a nebulizer

  • Normal breathing
    • When you use a nebulizer, you breathe calmly, deeply, and evenly to get the medicine into your lungs*
    • Nebulizers do not require you to hold your breath after you activate the device. Setup and cleanup time required
*The amount of medicine delivered to your lungs will depend on using the nebulizer properly. In addition, the type and condition of your nebulizer are important factors.

Helpful tips to stay healthy

If you haven’t already quit, please don’t smoke. Do your best to avoid secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, or other irritants that could make symptoms worse.

Maintain a healthy weight and eat nutritious foods. If you are overweight, losing weight may improve your breathing. If you are underweight, adding a few pounds can improve your strength—which can speed up the time it takes to recover from flare-ups. Talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or exercise.

Protect yourself from getting sick. Use a hand sanitizer, wash your hands, and avoid anyone who may be contagious.

Practice breathing exercises and ask your doctor if a pulmonary rehab program is right for you.

Get support from loved ones. COPD can be an emotional burden as well as a physical one.

How are you feeling? Writing about the physical and emotional impact of COPD can help. Take your notes with you the next time you see your doctor.