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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - quick-relief drugs

Quick-relief drugs for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) work quickly to help you breathe better. You take them when you are coughing or wheezing, and you are having trouble breathing.

These drugs are also called "rescue" drugs. These drugs help relax the muscles of your airways.

You and your doctor can make a plan for the quick-relief drugs that work for you. This plan will include when you should take them and how much you should take.

Take enough with you when you travel. Plan ahead. Make sure you do not run out.

Quick-relief Beta-agonist Inhalers

Quick-relief beta-agonists help you breathe better by relaxing the muscles of your airways. They are short-acting, which means they stay in your system only for a short time.

Some people take them just before exercising. Ask your doctor if you should do this.

If you need to use these drugs more than three times a week, or if you use more than one canister a month, your COPD probably is not under control. You should call your doctor.

Kinds of Quick-relief Beta-agonists

Some kinds of quick-relief beta-agonists are:

  • Albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin)
  • Bitolterol (Tornalate)
  • Levalbuterol (Xopenex)
  • Metaproterenol (Alupent, Metaprel)
  • Pirbuterol (Maxair)
  • Terbutaline (Brethine, Brethaire, and Bricanyl)

Side effects might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremor
  • Restlessness
  • Headache
  • Fast or irregular heartbeats. Call your doctor right away if you have this side effect.

Oral Steroids

Oral steroids (also called corticosteroids) are drugs you take by mouth, as pills, capsules, or liquids. You use them when you have an asthma attack that is not going away.

Your doctor will tell you how long you need to take these drugs. Most times it will be 3 to 10 days. Sometimes you might have to take them for longer.

Some kinds of oral steroids are:

  • Methylprednisolone
  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

Alternate Names

COPD - quick-relief drugs

References

Niewoehner DE. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 88.

Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, et al. Diagnosis and management of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A clinical practice quideline update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:179-191.

Update Date: 5/29/2012

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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