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Lung therapies

Doctors often use these additional therapies for people with moderate or severe COPD:

  • Oxygen therapy. If there isn't enough oxygen in your blood, you may need supplemental oxygen. There are several devices to deliver oxygen to your lungs, including lightweight, portable units that you can take with you to run errands and get around town.

    Some people with COPD use oxygen only during activities or while sleeping. Others use oxygen all the time. Oxygen therapy can improve quality of life and is the only COPD therapy proven to extend life. Talk to your doctor about your needs and options.

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs generally combine education, exercise training, nutrition advice and counseling. You'll work with a variety of specialists, who can tailor your rehabilitation program to meet your needs.

    Pulmonary rehabilitation may shorten hospitalizations, increase your ability to participate in everyday activities and improve your quality of life. Talk to your doctor about referral to a program.

Managing exacerbations

Even with ongoing treatment, you may experience times when symptoms become worse for days or weeks. This is called an acute exacerbation, and it may lead to lung failure if you don't receive prompt treatment.

Exacerbations may be caused by a respiratory infection, air pollution or other triggers of inflammation. Whatever the cause, it's important to seek prompt medical help if you notice a sustained increase in coughing, a change in your mucus or if you have a harder time breathing.

When exacerbations occur, you may need additional medications (such as antibiotics, steroids or both), supplemental oxygen or treatment in the hospital. Once symptoms improve, your doctor will talk with you about measures to prevent future exacerbations, such as quitting smoking, taking inhaled steroids, long-acting bronchodilators or other medications, getting your annual flu vaccine, and avoiding air pollution whenever possible.

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