COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Treatments for COPD

Your health care professional can prescribe several types of medicine or combinations of medications to improve symptoms like breathlessness and to help prevent a flare-up.

You can also do things to help manage your condition yourself. Keeping active and doing exercise can make a big difference – many people find this helps them more than inhaled drugs.

On this page:

Don’t smoke

If you smoke, the most effective treatment for COPD is to stop. Your health care professional and pharmacist can help you find ways that make it easier for you. You’re four times as likely to quit with help from support services and medication. Have a look at the NHS Smokefree website to find out more.

BLF active group supporting lung health

COPD patient passport

Are you receiving the care you're entitled to? Use our COPD patient passport to find out.

Have a plan

It’s important you have a plan to help you manage your COPD that’s agreed with your doctor or nurse.

You should also have regular check-ups with your health care professional – at least once a year.

Take a look at our self-help tools


Your doctor will decide with you which medications to use depending on how severe your COPD is, how it affects your everyday life, and any side effects that you may have experienced.

Find out more about medications


Your health care team may send you to a specialist to see if oxygen can help you. Oxygen is only useful as a treatment for people with a low oxygen level. It’s not a treatment for breathlessness, which in COPD is usually caused by difficulty moving air in and out as you breathe, rather than by a low oxygen level.

Find out more about oxygen

Non-invasive ventilation

If you’re admitted to hospital with a severe flare-up of your condition, you may be offered non-invasive ventilation. This involves wearing a nasal cannula ( a soft tube inserted into your nose) or face mask connected to a machine that pushes air into your lungs. Non-invasive ventilation supports your breathing to give your muscles a rest and gently helps with each breathe you take. This increases your oxygen level and helps you breathe out more carbon dioxide.

If you regularly wake up with a headache, tell your doctor. It can be a sign your breathing is shallow at night and you might benefit from non-invasive ventilation at home.

Lung volume reduction surgery

Some people with emphysema may benefit from surgery to remove the worst affected areas of the lung. This allows the remaining healthier parts of your lung to work better.

If you’ve been through a pulmonary rehabilitation programme and are still limited by breathlessness, ask your doctor if you might be eligible for this sort of treatment. Bronchoscopic techniques for lung volume reduction are also becoming available. You may be considered for these instead of surgery as part of the assessment process for surgery.

Find out more about surgery

Lung transplant

If you have very severe COPD and have not got better with treatment, you might be a candidate for a lung transplant depending on your age, other illnesses and test findings. Lung transplant is a high-risk operation and is only suitable for a small number of people. There are also few suitable organ donors.

Next: Managing your COPD >

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Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.