Breathing Treatments for COPD

If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, a breathing treatment in the form of a bronchodilator may be part of your treatment plan. Bronchodilators are intended to open airways (making breathing easier) and are the most commonly prescribed treatment for COPD. Bronchodilators can be short or long lasting, many containing a steroid. Regardless of the type of bronchodilator you’re using (metered dose inhaler, dry powder inhaler, or nebulizer), understanding and becoming familiar with your device and prescription is important. Doing so ensures safety and that your treatment for COPD is effective.


Metered-Dose Inhalers

Metered-Dose Inhalers (MDIs) are hand-held, self-administered devices that deliver a specific amount of medication to the lungs in a short, aerosolized spritz. MDIs are made up of a pressurized can of medicine that is surrounded by a plastic tube. There are many types of MDIs, but the most common type delivers a specific amount of medication when administered. A spacer is an external device and can be used to ensure better delivery of the medication. Like all medications, following instructions and using them correctly ensures the best outcome. Here are general instructions on using an MDI (without a spacer):

1 - Remove cap and hold MDI upright (mouthpiece should be at the bottom)
2 - Shake well for 5-10 seconds
3 - Exhale all your air, close lips tightly around the mouthpiece, and tilt your head back
4 - Begin to breathe in slowly as you press down firmly on the can to release the medication
5 - If you’re able, hold your breath for 5-10 second to get the most out of your medication
6 - Repeat if your prescription requires a second dose after one minute
7 - Rinse your mouth with warm water if your inhaler contains a steroid
8 - Wash your mouthpiece regularly with warm water


Dry-Powder Inhalers

Dry-powder inhalers (DPIs) are similar to MDIs but does not contain a propellant (in many cases aerosol). DPIs rely on your breath to be activated and only contain medication. Here are the general steps for using DPIs:

1 - Remove cap and load a dose of medication (loading dosages depends on the brand of medication you’re using. Be sure to read instructions thoroughly and ask any clarifying questions necessary).
2 - Exhale all your air and tilt your head back
3 - Tightly close your lips around the opening and breath in as deeply, quickly, and forcefully as possible. Do not exhale into the inhaler.
4 - Hold your breath for 5-10 second if possible
5 - Repeat if your prescription requires a second dose after one minute
6 - Rinse mouth if your medication contains a steroid


Nebulizer Treatments

Often times patients feel more symptom relief when using a nebulizer. A nebulizer is a device that administers medication in a mist form that is inhaled into the lungs. If you’re using a nebulizer, your medications will be in liquid form. Most of these devices are small and are very easy to use; so easy that you can even travel with them. One nebulizer treatment typically takes 10-15 minutes to complete. Here are the general steps for using a nebulizer:

1 - Connect the hose to the air compressor and fill the medicine cup with the prescribed dosage
2 - Attach hose and mouthpiece to the medicine cup
3 - Tightly close lips around the mouthpiece and inhale through your mouth until your medicine has been entirely inhaled
4 - Wash medicine cup and mouthpiece with warm water

Above are general instructions for using these breathing treatment devices. You should always follow your doctor's specific instructions and prescription exactly. For any questions, reach out to your health care professional.