Written by Carmen
Pharmacist Wantirna

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and it is a term used to refer conditions such as Emphysema, chronic asthma and bronchitis.

The main symptoms are breathlessness, chronic cough and producing lots of phlegm. The main people at risk of developing COPD are smokers and ex-smokers. Unfortunately there is no cure for COPD, as the damaged airways never regenerate. However there are things you can do to slow the progression of the disease and improve symptoms.

The symptoms of COPD:

  • breathlessness after exertion
  • in severe cases, breathlessness even when at rest
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • coughing up sputum
  • fatigue
  • cyanosis – a blue tinge to the skin caused by insufficient oxygen
  • increased susceptibility to chest infections

These symptoms usually occur slowly and some people don’t realise that their breathing is gradually getting worse.

Causes of COPD:

  • Cigarette smoke. This is the most significant risk factor for developing COPD. Even if you are an ex-smoker, you are still at risk and should be monitoring for any signs of breathlessness.
  • Long term exposure to lung irritants (for example chemical vapours)


Treatment will be initiated by your doctor and will usually consist of a combination of puffers

  • Bronchodilators: these include puffers such as Ventolin and help to open up the airways and relax the lungs
  • Corticosteroids: These puffers reduce inflammation in the lungs and stop swelling
  • SPIRIVA: This is the main medication given to sufferers of COPD. It helps treat symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
  • Cough expectorants: These are useful to help break up an mucous sitting on the lungs
  • Oxygen: If the disease progresses to the very severe stages then oxygen therapy will be necessary to ensure oxygen levels in the blood remain at an appropriate level.

Lifestyle tips that can help if you suffer from COPD include:

  • Quit smoking – techniques can include ‘cold turkey’, counselling, nicotine replacement therapy and medications that work on brain receptors. Evidence shows that counselling, together with medical therapy, is most effective.
  • Try to be as physically active as possible. If possible, attend pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Follow a COPD action plan.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Make adjustments to your lifestyle and home environment to ensure plenty of rest.
  • Keep adequately hydrated to help keep the mucus in your lungs runny and easier to cough up.
  • Avoid smoky or dusty environments.

If you are a smoker or ex-smoker and are experiencing any of the symptoms described here, your local Community Pharmacy pharmacist will be able to conduct a COPD screening for you, to assess your current risk of developing COPD.

Contact your local store for more details.

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