At Home with COPD

COPD treatment options and tools for patients at home

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, affects patients’ ability to breathe. Often a result of smoking, COPD includes the conditions emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

This disease is known to get worse overtime and, while there is no known cure, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) reports that “treatments and lifestyle changes can help you feel better, stay more active, and slow the progress of the disease.”

Treatment often requires patients’ commitment to take steps at home using a variety of tools and supplies to work with and ease symptoms. 

Oxygen Therapy

One of the most recognized at-home treatments used for COPD is supplemental oxygen. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), “Sometimes with COPD, lung function is reduced to the extent that supplemental oxygen (also called oxygen therapy) is needed to continue normal bodily functions and may also help them be more active.”

Some patients with COPD use supplemental oxygen all of the time and some only use it during specific tasks or occasionally.  It can be administrated in several different ways.

The ALA reports that some patients use liquid oxygen and compressed oxygen gas that is stored in tanks. These tanks can be large for at-home use, or smaller and easily transportable for carrying along when the patient is out and about. 

As ALA describes it, “Liquid oxygen is made by cooling the oxygen gas, which changes it to a liquid form...It is often used by people who are more active because larger amounts of oxygen can be stored in smaller, more convenient containers.”

However, the liquid form of oxygen will evaporate over time, and thus does not have a very long shelf life.

Oxygen concentrators are another approach to oxygen therapy. These tools are electronic and work to purify and concentrate oxygen already in the air for use by the patient. 

“This method is less expensive, easier to maintain, and doesn't require refilling,” says the ALA. However, these oxygen concentrating devices may be noisy and cause house electricity bills to rise, so a plan or back up needs to be in place in case of a power outage. 

Portable versions of this type of oxygen supply are also available so that patients can still easily access their supplemental oxygen when they leave the house.

The hope is that oxygen therapy will help patients sleep better, be more alert, be more physically active and help keep hearts and lungs safe.

There are safety factors that need to be considered when working with supplemental oxygen machines. As such, patients need to closely discuss the matter with their doctors and follow all directions and safety warnings associated with their method of treatment. 

Bronchodilators and Inhalers

Bronchodilators are a type of medication and another common COPD treatment that requires patients to use at-home tools - in this case, usually inhalers.

According to the NHLBI, “Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your airways. This helps open your airways and makes breathing easier.”

The use of an inhaler helps the bronchodilators access the lungs quickly and directly while working to relax the muscles as rapidly as possible.

There are different types of bronchodilators. The choice of bronchodilator will depend on each patient's individual needs, says the NHLBI. Some COPD patients use a long-lasting dosage that is used regularly each day. Others may be prescribed a more short-term method that is only taken when symptoms are acting up and additional assistance is needed to make breathing easier.

Furthermore, according to the American Thoracic Society (ATS), there are multiple kinds of inhalers that could be used to take different types of COPD medications.

Inhaler types include:

  • Metered-dose inhalers (a very common type) that deliver the medicine in the form of a mist or spray
  • Dry powder inhalers that allow for the medicine to be distributed in a dry, powdered form
  • Breath-actuated inhalers “that automatically release a spray of medication when the patient begins to inhale,” according to the ATS
  • Nebulizers that transform liquid medication into a mist that can be inhaled through tubing and a mask

Patients should thoroughly discuss proper use, dosage and inhaler safety methods with their doctor before they begin treatment. 

No matter what kind of treatment is determined for individual patients, a COPD diagnosis requires a commitment to making lifestyle changes and to taking steps for self care at home.

Doctors and COPD patients will work together to determine specific at-home supplies needed in each case, and to discuss how and when to properly use the devices. 

Thankfully, with the technology provided by tools like oxygen suppliers and inhalers, patients have the freedom to receive effective and quick-acting treatment away from a hospital setting.

Review Date: 
February 14, 2013