Woman using an Inhaler

When your doctor diagnosed you with COPD, you were most likely prescribed medications to help you manage your symptoms. Many of these medications are to help with your breathing and prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

COPD patients often have to take several different kinds of medications.

A "rescue" inhaler acts quickly to help you breathe when your symptoms act up. You would use a "maintenance" inhaler at certain times each day to help keep your symptoms from getting worse. These inhalers can be a metered dose inhaler, a dry powder inhaler, or a soft mist inhaler.

Nebulizers are a liquid medicine that turns into a mist to help you breathe better quickly.

Additionally, your doctor may prescribe pills for you to take to help prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

All these different medications might get confusing. Make sure you ask your doctor and/or pharmacist these important questions.

"How do I use my inhaler?"

Research has shown that many patients do not use their inhalers correctly because they miss at least one important step. Not all inhalers work the same way, so make sure you understand how your inhalers work and when to use them.

"What should I expect when using my inhaler?"

Since rescue inhalers work quickly, you would want to use it when you are having a breathing "attack." Maintenance medications work slowly, so you would use them at scheduled times to make sure your symptoms don't get worse.

Pay attention to the way you feel each day and see if your maintenance inhaler is making a difference or if your symptoms are getting worse. Talk to your doctor during your follow up visits, so they can decide whether your inhalers are working or if you need different ones.

If you use a steroid inhaler, ask your doctor about rinsing your mouth out.

"Are there ways to make my inhaler routine easier?"

If you have COPD, you may be on several different inhalers to help control your symptoms. That could be confusing because you have to learn and remember different steps for each inhaler you have to use.

If you use two or more inhalers, ask if it is possible to get a combination inhaler. These special inhalers combine several different types of medication. Some combination inhalers are used only once a day, which makes it easier to remember to take.

If you have trouble using your inhaler, ask your doctor about using a spacer. A spacer is a device that makes using a metered dose inhaler easier.

"When should I use my nebulizer?"

When a nebulizer is used, it is called a breathing treatment or a nebulizer treatment. It can be used three to four times a day. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you don't understand.

Always remember to clean your nebulizer after each use to prevent bacteria from growing in it. Wash the container and mouthpiece or mask with dish soap and hot water. Shake off the excess water and let the parts dry. Be sure to unplug the machine before cleaning it.

"What should I expect when using my nebulizer?"

Nebulizers can deliver medicine with less effort than inhalers. Nebulizers offer a quick relief and effective way to find relief from your symptoms.

Medicine goes into your lungs as you take slow deep breaths for 10 to 15 minutes.

"What do I do if I miss a dose or run out of medication?"

Skipping doses is dangerous. Ask your health care provider what to do if you forget to take a dose.

Make sure you always have enough medicine on hand. Every time you pick up your medicines, check the number of refills you have left. It is on the bottle. Call your doctor right away if the bottle says "No refills" or "Refills: 0."

Don't wait until the last minute to refill. Place a refill order when you have about a week's worth of medication left, so you don't run out.

"I cannot afford my inhaler – what options are available to me?"

Inhalers may cost several hundred dollars, even with insurance and any discount cards. Sometimes generic inhalers may be cheaper, but with your insurance's preferred covered inhaler, this may not always be the case.

If you have insurance, make sure your inhaler is on your insurance formulary. A formulary is a list of medications that your insurance will pay for. If your inhaler is not on the formulary or the pharmacy quotes you a high price, call your doctor before you buy the expensive inhaler. Your doctor may be able to switch you to a similar type of inhaler that is cheaper.

If you do not have prescription drug coverage, contact the drug manufacturer's patient assistance program to see if they can give you a discount or help in any way.

In addition, Medicare part B covers all but 20% of the cost of nebulizer prescriptions, but part D prescription plans do not.

In conclusion

Taking your medications is an important step to feeling better and controlling your symptoms. Make sure you take your medications regularly, as prescribed by your doctor. Do not be afraid to reach out to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.