Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

U.S. News High Performing Hospitals badge COPDChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term used to describe several progressive, chronic lung diseases, the most common of which are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD; however, occupational or environmental exposure and genetics may also play a role.

Treatments such as medications, inhalers and pulmonary rehabilitation may slow the progression of COPD, but cannot reverse the damage already done to the lungs. And in cases where these treatments aren’t working, surgery may be needed. Early diagnosis is key to preventing further harm. And if you smoke, the best thing you can do is stop smoking now. Contact the Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program to get started.


Emphysema is a disease of the alveoli, tiny air sacs in your lungs. When the membranes, or walls, of the alveoli become damaged, they lose elasticity. It’s like a balloon that has been inflated over and over again and cannot return to its original shape, or actually bursts.

When the alveoli become stretched out, carbon dioxide accumulates and becomes trapped, and fresh oxygen cannot easily pass across the membranes.

This accumulation of carbon dioxide can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and can lead to more serious complications. Some patients with emphysema may be treated with bronchoscopic lung volume reduction (BLVR).

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air to your lungs. It is characterized by a persistent cough and increased mucous production. If you have a cough that lasts more than three weeks and is accompanied with a fever or shortness of breath, or if you are producing discolored mucous or blood, you should call your doctor or contact one of our board-certified pulmonologists.

Common Treatments for COPD

  • Oxygen Therapy
    When your lungs are unable to deliver oxygen to your tissues effectively, oxygen therapy may be prescribed. Oxygen is delivered either through tubes resting in the nose or through a face mask. Oxygen therapy can reduce shortness of breath and enable you to stay more active.
  • Medications
    There are a range of medications that help decrease inflammation in the airways to ease the work of breathing in the treatment of COPD. Controller medications are prescribed to be taken daily and can preempt the disease from reaching a state that would require a hospital visit.
  • Rescue Inhalers
    Rescue inhalers provide immediate relief and are used when symptoms become out of control. These should only be used on an as-needed basis. If you find you are using your rescue inhaler multiple times a day with increasing frequency, please contact your physician or one of our pulmonologists.

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