At this point in time there are no cures for COPD. However, in many cases the disorder can be prevented or radically slowed down in progression by having patients stop smoking (the leading cause of the disease is exposure to tobacco smoke). There are also a range of medications and procedures that can be used to help manage the symptoms and complications associated with COPD:
- Antibiotics. The excess and viscous mucous that gets trapped inside the airways during COPD can become a home to infection-causing bacteria. Antibiotics are prescribed to help to ward off these respiratory infections. Examples of the antibiotics commonly administered include tetracycline, ampicillin, and erythromycin.
- Bronchodilators. Bronchodilator medications help relax narrowed airways so that more oxygen can get into the bloodstream and more carbon dioxide can be removed. Bronchodilator medicines are often inhaled.
- Corticosteroids. Like Bronchodialators, corticosteroids relax and open constricted airways. Steroids are often used when bronchodilators have ceased to be effective.
- Digitalis. Often individuals who have COPD will also have heart complications. The heart attempts to compensate for a lack of adequate oxygen dissolved in the bloodstream by pumping blood faster. Digitalis, a medication that works to strengthen the contractive force of the heartbeat, is often prescribed to boost the heart's pumping capacity, thereby helping to alleviate the extra stress placed on the heart by COPD. Digitalis needs to be used cautiously, as the medicine sometimes is associated with abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias).
- Diuretics. Diuretics are substances which cause the body to retain less water than it normally would, excreting the difference as urine. Diuretics can help combat fluid retention caused by pooling of blood inside the heart's chambers. Patients using diuretics must be careful to not allow themselves to become too dehydrated.
- Oxygen Therapy. The blocked airways and dysfunctional alveolar sacs associated with COPD leave patients with low levels of oxygen in their bloodstream, and oxygen-starved organs including the brain and heart. Administration of oxygen therapy increases patients' blood oxygen levels and can improve brain function, decrease strain on the heart, and lessen some of the symptoms of COPD such as headache and restlessness while trying to sleep. Most patients are able to take their oxygen therapy at home. Unfortunately oxygen therapy is fairly expensive.