Medications Prescribed to Treat Your COPD

Yourself or your loved one was diagnosed with COPD. And you know what makes your symptoms harder to manage. But do you know how to manage your symptoms? If you answered medication, you’re correct. There are medications commonly prescribed to treat COPD.

Medications are prescribed for two reasons. First, they reduce the impact on your daily life. Like activity limitations or poor quality of life. Next, they reduce COPD symptom exacerbations.

Treating Your COPD Symptoms

The first step is to stop smoking. This drastically improves your symptoms. Prescribed medications are next. Bronochodilators are often prescribed to treat COPD. In fact, they’re considered a staple treatment. Does the word “bronchodilator” sound familiar? It should, especially if you have asthma and COPD.

Bronchodilators are used to treat different respiratory conditions. Such as asthma, COPD, and even cystic fibrosis. They dilate or open your airways. And they keep your symptoms pretty stable. There are common bronchodilators. By common it’s meant that they’re prescribed more often than others.

β2 agonists

β2 agonists are one of the most common kind of bronchodilator. You may have heard of long – or short-acting β2 agonists. But do you know what that means or how they differ? It’s fairly easy to remember. β2 agonists are classified by onset and duration times. Onset time is the amount of time it takes for you to feel the medication’s effects. On the other hand, duration time is how long the effects last. Long-acting β2 agonists take a bit longer to kick in, but once they do you experience longer periods of relief. As such, they’re used more regularly to treat COPD.

β2 agonists have a very important job. They relax the muscles in your airways. And they dilate or open your airways. As the result, you get relief from your COPD symptoms. Namely breathlessness.

Complications Of β2 agonists

  • β2 agonists are really good for reversing reversible airway limitation. However, COPD’s airway limitation isn’t always reversible
  • Serious risk of cardiovascular events. Like heart conditions and heart failure
  • Long-term use has been linked to hospitalizations, respiratory distress, and death


Anticholinergics are another kind of bronchodilator. Like β2 agonists, anticholinergics improve airflow through your airways by opening your airways. This gives relief from your COPD symptoms. Anticholinergics also reduce mucus production. β2 agonists don’t do this. Too much mucus in your airways contributes to breathing problems.

Some doctors prefer anticholinergics to the use of β2 agonists. Why? The reasoning is complex. However, the short of it is these medications affect your body different. β2 agonists stimulate your cardiac system. Think your heart. On the other hand, anticholinergics stimulate your nervous system. Also, anticholinergics have fewer side effects.

Complications Of Anticholingerics

  • The effects don’t last long
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Memory problems. Such as brain fog and forgetfulness
  • Eye problems. Like sensitivity to light and dry eyes
  • Increased risk for dementia with long-term use
  • They’re more expensive and aren’t readily available all over


Corticosteroids are a kind of steroid. They suppresse inflammation. So they’re prescribed to treat inflammation in COPD. However, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding their use and efficacy. The short version is this: asthma and COPD present similarly. Namely inflammation. However, their inflammatory patterns are NOT the same. Therefore, unless you have a comorbid condition, you likely won’t benefit much from corticosteroids.

Complications Of Corticosteroids

  • Systemic effects across all systems
  • Skin bruising
  • Diabetes
  • Eye problems. Like glaucoma and cataracts
  • Urinary retention


Antimuscarinics are medications that are classified by their function. They block certain receptors in different bodily systems. Namely systems that are important for your heart, smooth muscles, and brain. Antimuscarinics treat different health conditions. One of those being COPD. They dilate your airways. But that’s not all they do. They have a few more jobs. First, they reduce airway inflammation. Next, they stop airway remodeling. COPD changes or remodels your airways. So, antimuscarinics stop this from happening.

There’s good news. They’re tolerated well. And they have fewer side effects. Children and the elderly are at risk of complications.

Complications Of Antimuscarinics

  • Changes in heart rate. For instance, slow or fast heart rates
  • Dry mouth
  • Psychological problems. Like mania and hallucinations
  • Blurred vision and light sensitivity
  • Swallowing problems


Mucolytics are another common COPD treatment. Do you know what they do? Just look at their name. Mucus! That’s right, they get rid of mucus. Actually, they thin and break down the mucus in your airways.

Remember, a productive cough is a symptom of COPD. But mucus in the lungs is not a bad thing. In fact, your lungs produce mucus. Everyone’s lungs produces mucus. This is a natural and healthy function. But respiratory conditions make your body produce too much mucus. Too much mucus triggers coughs. And it makes your COPD symptoms worse.

Everyone doesn’t use mucolytics. In fact, they’re usually prescribed to people with long-term productive coughs. They break down mucus, making it easier for you to cough it up. Still not sold on them? Consider these three benefits. First, they’re generally safe and tolerable. In fact, they have fewer side effects than other COPD medications. Next, they reduce the number of COPD exacerbations. Finally, they decrease hospital admissions.

Complications Of Mucolytics

  • Allergic reactions
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Chest tightness and bronchoconstriction is possible
  • Use is limited