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COPD Treatment: Are Inhaled Corticosteroids Effective?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD for short) is an umbrella term that includes and describes progressive lung diseases. Lung diseases that fall under the COPD umbrella include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and non-reversible asthma

What causes COPD varies; it is commonly caused by long-term smoking, but non-smokers can also develop COPD if over-exposed to lung-damaging irritants. In rare cases, COPD is caused by a condition called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD). 

COPD cannot be cured, but there are many treatments available with the goal of helping people breathe easier, reduce symptoms, and improve their quality of life. One way to treat COPD is through inhaled corticosteroids. 

What is an Inhaled Corticosteroid?

An inhaled corticosteroid is an anti-inflammatory medication that is taken by mouth using an inhaler. They are also sometimes called glucocorticosteroids or steroids—but they are not the same thing as anabolic steroids, the substances that are sometimes used and abused by professional athletes and bodybuilders in an attempt to enhance performance. 

How Are Inhaled Corticosteroids Used to Treat COPD?

COPD irritates and inflames the airways, making it hard to breathe. When using inhaled corticosteroids in the treatment of COPD, the goal is to reduce inflammation in the airways which will make it easier to breathe. 

In many patients, other treatments and medications are effective in managing their COPD and inhaled steroids aren’t needed—but for some with more severe COPD, these medications are a good treatment option. Steroids can be taken orally as well, but inhaled medications are preferred as they help get the most medication possible directly into the lungs. Inhaling the medication can also decrease or avoid the serious side effects that can come with taking corticosteroids in pill form. (Common side effects of taking corticosteroids orally include weight gain, osteoporosis, insomnia, high blood sugar, and more.)

Some people take inhaled corticosteroids for daily maintenance and others use them only on an as-needed basis for acute exacerbations—also known as flare-ups or “attacks.” A COPD flare-up happens when symptoms suddenly become worse. 

What Inhaled COPD Medications are Available?

Inhaled corticosteroids used in treating COPD include:

  • Qvar® 
  • Beclovent®
  • Pulmicort® 
  • AeroBid® 
  • Flovent® 
  • Azmacort® 

In addition to the inhaled corticosteroids mentioned above, many COPD sufferers benefit from bronchodilator-corticosteroid combination medications. The bronchodilator elements in these medications work by relaxing the muscles surrounding the airways while widening the airways themselves. Bronchodilator-corticosteroid medications are often a good treatment choice for people in the later stages of COPD. Available medications include:

  • Advair® Diskus 
  • Breo Ellipta® 
  • Dulera® 
  • Symbicort® 

While these medications are effective at treating COPD, they come with risks like any other medication. One of the most significant things to note about taking inhaled corticosteroids is the risk of developing pneumonia. You should work closely with your pulmonologist to determine the best treatment plan for managing your COPD symptoms. If he or she determines that inhaled steroids are a good option, make sure you take them under close supervision so any negative side effects can be quickly identified and treated. 

What Should I Do if I Think I Have COPD?

If you’re experiencing some common COPD symptoms (chest tightness, wheezing, ongoing cough), you can call us at 423-710-3864 to make an appointment with our pulmonologist, Dr. Mike Czarnecki. You may also use our quick and easy online scheduling system. Our goal is to help you quickly diagnose your issues so we can start you on an effective treatment plan that will help you live, laugh, love, and breathe better again!