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Medications for COPD

There are several types of inhalers used to treat COPDD, including short- and long-acting bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory (steroid) inhalers. Different inhalers or medications are often used together in combination therapy.

Older woman being supervised by nurse while using inhaler



What medication will I be prescribed?

The medications that your healthcare provider prescribes to treat your COPD will be based on your lung function, your symptoms, your health status and your risk of exacerbations or flareups. They will also consider how well you can use the inhaler, as inhalers come in different forms. Using your inhaler improperly can mean you are not getting the full dose of medication. We have more information (including videos) in our How to Use your Inhaler section. Ask your provider, pharmacist, respiratory educator or nurse to assess how you use your inhalers to ensure proper technique.

It’s important that you take the right medication at the right time to best manage your COPD. Your COPD action plan can help you track when and how much medication to take.


Bronchodilators (inhalers)

Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways, which helps to open the airways to help you breathe easier. This medicine is delivered using an inhaler device. There are different types of inhalers containing different types and amounts of medication.

Long-acting bronchodilators reduce the swelling in your airways and prevent COPD symptoms from occurring. They need to be taken at or around the same time every day, even when you feel well. 

Short-acting bronchodilators work quickly to relax your airways and make it easier for you to breathe. You take these medications if you have symptoms. Although they work quickly so that you get relief from symptoms fast, these medications wear off in a few hours. 

There are two types of bronchodilators used to manage COPD and prevent flareups.

  • Beta2-agonists relax the tightened muscles around your airways, which opens the airway and makes breathing easier. 
  • Muscarinic antagonists (also called anticholinergics) prevent the muscles around your airways from tightening and help clear mucus from your lungs. This allows you to cough up mucus more easily.

Examples of short-acting beta-2 agonist (SABA) inhalers:

  • Ventolin Diskus
  • Ventolin Airomir
  • Bricanyl Turbuhaler

Examples of short-acting muscarinic antagonist (SAMA) inhalers:

  • Atrovent

Examples of long-acting beta-2 agonist (LABA) inhalers:

  • Onbrez Breezhaler
  • SereVent Diskhaler, SereVent Diskus
  • Oxeze Turbuhaler

Examples of long-acting muscarinic antagonist (LAMA) inhalers:

  • Turdoza Genuair
  • Seebri Breezhaler
  • Spiriva Handihaler, Spiriva Respimat
  • Incruse Ellipta


Anti-inflammatory medications

Inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) medication is prescribed to decrease inflammation, swelling and mucus production inside the airways. ICS is not used alone to treat COPD but may be prescribed as an add-on to a LAMA, LABA or both.

Example of ICS inhalers:

  • Pulmicort Turbuhaler
  • Flovent HFA, Flovent Diskus


Combination therapy

If your provider prescribes either LAMA or LABA inhalers alone, this is called monotherapy. They may prescribe dual combination therapy, which combines LAMA and LABA or LABA and ICS.

Some inhalers deliver a combination of medications. For example: 

  • SABA + SAMA = Combivent Respimat
  • LABA + ICS = Symbicort Turbuhaler, Breo Ellipta, Advair, Advair Diskus
  • LABA + LAMA = Duaklir Genuair, Ultibro Breezhaler, Ispiolto Respimat, Anoro Ellipta

The use of a LAMA, LABA and ICS together is called triple combination therapy. For example:

  • LABA + LAMA + ICS = Trelegy Ellipta, Breztri Aerosphere

This section was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Astra Zeneca Canada.