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Medications for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, are generally taken using a device called an inhaler. This device allows the medication to go straight to the lungs.

Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways, helping open the airways and making it easier to breathe. Depending on the severity of COPD, a provider may prescribe short-acting or long-acting bronchodilators.

Short-acting bronchodilators are typically prescribed for mild COPD, but they can also be prescribed for more severe cases. They last about four to six hours and should be used only when symptoms occur.

Long-acting bronchodilators are usually prescribed for moderate to severe COPD, but they may also be used by patients with mild COPD. They last about 12 hours or more and are used every day.

Corticosteroids can help reduce airway inflammation. If COPD is severe or if symptoms flare up often, corticosteroids may be prescribed in combination with a bronchodilator.

Respiratory tract infections, such as influenza and pneumonia, can cause serious problems for people who have COPD. For this reason, it's especially important for people with COPD to talk to their providers about getting annual flu shots and pneumococcal vaccines.