8 Things to Know About Taking Maintenance Medication for COPD

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN on January 8, 2021
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    All About COPD Maintenance Medications
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects as many as 11 million Americans each year. Many of these individuals use daily maintenance medications to help control their symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe maintenance, or control, medications when your symptoms worsen or if you’ve already tried other interventions—like pulmonary rehabilitation—but still experience complications. If your doctor prescribes maintenance medication for COPD, keep these tips in mind as you begin your new treatment.
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    1. COPD medications come in many forms.
    Unlike COPD rescue medications, which are provided through the use of inhalers or nebulizers, COPD maintenance medications come in a variety of forms. These medications are meant to be taken every day, sometimes multiple times per day. While some are prescribed with an inhaler, many COPD control medications are also available as pills, liquids, injections, powders, or vapors. Which medications your doctor prescribes depends on your personal needs and medical history.
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    2. Most people take more than one maintenance medication.
    There isn’t any one-size-fits-all method of prescribing COPD maintenance medications. Depending on the symptoms you experience, your doctor may prescribe more than one medication at a time to provide the most relief possible. Many people with COPD take both bronchodilators and inhaled steroids every day, since they each manage different aspects of the disease. The medications you take depend on your doctor’s recommendations and how well they help you control your COPD symptoms.
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    3. It may take a while to determine which medications work best.
    Some people respond to COPD maintenance medications immediately, but your experience may differ. Finding the right medication or combination of medications may take time. You might need to try several different types of maintenance medications to determine which ones work best for you. When starting a new maintenance medication, be sure to keep track of your symptoms, including how often they occur and how serious they are. This helps your doctor decide whether the new medication is working.
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    4. You should take your medications at the same time each day.
    Certain maintenance medications, especially steroids, should be taken exactly how your doctor prescribes. This means taking these medications at the same time each day. Steroids, like other medications, stay in your body for a certain period of time. If you take a dose too soon, levels of maintenance medications can build up, causing unwanted side effects. Your doctor creates your personal dosing schedule depending on your symptoms and how well you respond to treatment.
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    5. Some maintenance medications cause side effects.
    Certain COPD inhalers, especially those containing steroids, may be more likely to cause some types of oral infections, hoarseness in your throat, and unintended bruising. Other medication side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, headache, rapid heartbeat, tremors, and weight loss. In some cases, other serious medical conditions, such as osteoporosis and diabetes, may occur as a result of long-term maintenance medication use. If you experience any side effects while taking maintenance medications, let your doctor know immediately.
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    6. You shouldn’t just stop taking your medications.
    Abruptly stopping your COPD maintenance medications makes it more likely for you to experience a sudden reemergence of serious symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Instead of simply stopping your medications, it’s important to speak with your doctor about any concerns you have. If your medication doesn’t seem to be working, or it’s causing unwanted side effects, your doctor can help you figure out an alternative.
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    7. You may still need oxygen therapy.
    If COPD is severe enough to limit the amount of oxygen your body receives, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy in addition to your maintenance medications. Some people living with COPD only use oxygen during exertional activities or while sleeping, but others require this intervention all day long. Your exact needs for oxygen depend on the severity of your condition, how well your maintenance medications work, and whether you have any other underlying medical conditions.
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    8. Your medication needs may change over time.
    It’s possible that your COPD medication needs will change over time. It’s not uncommon for people to start one maintenance medication only to find that its effectiveness is reduced months or years later. Over time, you may need to add more medications as you experience differing symptoms. And if your condition prevents oxygen from reaching your body tissues, you may eventually need oxygen therapy. Throughout treatment, your prescribed medications are based on your personal needs.
Maintenance Medication | COPD Treatment

About The Author

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN began writing professionally in 2016. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialties, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice. With over nine years of clinical practice experience, Sarah has worked with clients including Healthgrades, Mayo Clinic, Aha Media Group, Wolters Kluwer, and UVA Cancer Center.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
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