Breathing Treatments for Asthma, COPD, and More – Verywell Health

Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with expertise in disability rights, mental health, and pregnancy-related conditions. She has written for publications like SELF, The New York Times, VICE, and The Guardian.
Jurairat J. Molina, MD, MBA is a board-certified allergist who has been practicing in field of allergy and clinical immunology for the past two decades. 
Under normal conditions, breathing is effortless. However, some people with respiratory illnesses need to undergo breathing treatments on a regular basis. 
Most breathing treatments deliver medication to the lungs in the form of a fine mist. Some breathing treatments are more effective than others, depending on the person and their illness. 
This article will discuss breathing treatments for asthma and other respiratory illnesses, including types, side effects, and alternatives.
FG Trade / Getty Images
Asthma is a chronic medical condition that causes narrowing and inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. When asthma symptoms get worse, it is called an “asthma episode” or “asthma attack.” 
There are two main types of breathing treatments for asthma: controller medications and quick-relief medications. Controller medications, also called long-term medications, are used daily to prevent asthma attacks.
Quick-relief medications, often delivered through a rescue inhaler, are used on an as-needed basis during an asthma episode.
Inhaled corticosteroids, such as Flovent (fluticasone) and Pulmicort (budesonide), are often used as controller medications for asthma. 
People take inhaled corticosteroids by placing an inhaler directly into their mouth, pushing down on the canister, and taking a deep breath. When used on a daily basis, inhaled corticosteroids work to prevent asthma attacks by reducing inflammation in the airways.
The most common side effects include:
Nebulizers are “breathing machines” that use an air compressor to turn liquid medicine into a fine mist. The mist is breathed in through a mask or mouthpiece. 
The three main types of nebulizers are:
Some people with asthma prefer to use nebulizers because they’re easier to use. However, unlike inhalers, nebulizers have to be charged and disinfected regularly. They are also too large to bring with you wherever you go.
Both controller medications and quick-relief medications for asthma are often delivered through an inhaler—a small medical device that delivers medicine directly to the lungs. The two main types of inhalers are:
Controller inhalers are used on a long-term, preventive basis. They deliver inhaled corticosteroids and other controller medications. 
Rescue inhalers, such as Ventolin (albuterol) inhalers, are used only when asthma symptoms act up. They deliver medicines called bronchodilators (medications that act quickly to open up the airways to make it easier to breathe) to the lungs during asthma attacks.
Bronchodilators include both beta2-agonists, which relax airway muscles, and anticholinergics, which prevent airway muscles from tightening.
In addition to nebulizers and inhalers, other asthma treatments are:
Many people experience feelings of panic or impending doom when they have an asthma attack. Even if you are already using a medical treatment for shortness of breath, breathing techniques may help you relax when symptoms act up.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collection of diseases that affects 16 million Americans. Many people with COPD use breathing treatments to ease their symptoms and prevent complications.

The conditions grouped as COPD block airflow and create breathing problems. They are chronic and progressive. COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Symptoms of COPD include:
People who smoke or used to smoke are most at risk of developing COPD. Other risk factors for COPD include:
There is currently no cure for COPD, but it can be effectively treated and managed.
Bronchodilators, including both beta-agonists and anticholinergics, can help to reduce excess mucus production and prevent chronic cough in people with COPD. 
Combination inhalers, which contain either two different bronchodilators or a combination of bronchodilators and corticosteroids, have been found to be most effective for people with COPD. Often, people with COPD take a combination of both short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators to stop symptoms in their tracks and prevent future complications.
Inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce airway inflammation, are often used in combination with bronchodilators to treat COPD symptoms. Research suggests that inhaled corticosteroids can prevent severe symptoms, reduce hospital visits, and improve overall quality of life in people with COPD.

Oxygen therapy is a treatment that provides supplemental oxygen for you to breathe. It may take place in a hospital setting or at home. Supplemental oxygen can help if you have trouble exercising, working, or engaging in daily activities because of your COPD symptoms.
Supplemental oxygen is usually delivered through tubes and a mask or nasal cannula. The main types of oxygen delivery devices are:
Oxygen therapy is usually safe. The most common side effects from oxygen therapy are nosebleeds, morning headaches, fatigue, and dry nose. Because oxygen is flammable, it’s important not to use it near flames or while smoking.
Your healthcare provider will be able to prescribe the correct type of oxygen therapy for you based on your medical history and the severity of your symptoms.
If shortness of breath due to COPD is limiting your daily activities, a pulmonary rehabilitation program may help. 
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are designed to help people with COPD and other chronic breathing conditions improve their quality of life. The programs often involve:
Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are usually delivered in an outpatient setting by a medical team of physicians, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and other specialists. In some cases, your rehab team may be able to treat you at home.
Some people with severe, persistent COPD symptoms may be eligible for lung surgery. The two types of surgery used to treat COPD are:
In order to be considered as a candidate for lung surgery, you have to be healthy enough to undergo the procedure. You may not be eligible if you are a current smoker or if your lungs are severely damaged. 
If COPD symptoms have already extensively weakened the lungs, a lung transplant may be necessary.
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs that causes symptoms like coughing, fever, muscle pain, weakness, chills, and shortness of breath. It may be bacterial, viral, or fungal. People with asthma and/or COPD are more at risk of developing pneumonia.
Some cases of pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), fluids, and rest. Inhaling steam or sleeping in a room with a humidifier may provide relief. 
More severe cases of pneumonia may require hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and breathing assistance from oxygen therapy or a ventilator.
Chronic use of inhaled corticosteroids, especially for asthma or COPD, has been linked to an increased risk of pneumonia. If you are concerned about developing pneumonia, talk to your healthcare provider about reducing your risk as much as possible.
There are several factors to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a breathing treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about the side effects, maintenance, and effectiveness of each type of treatment.

It’s important to keep potential side effects in mind when considering a possible breathing treatment. Many of the first-line treatments for respiratory illnesses (such as inhaled corticosteroids for asthma) became popular because they do not come with serious side effects for most people.
After you start a new breathing treatment, monitor your progress. Talk to your healthcare provider about any side effects you experience. They may be able to lower your dose or recommend an alternative. 
If your symptoms get worse or you start to show signs of an allergic reaction, seek medical help right away.
When you’re considering a breathing treatment, consider how much effort, time, and money it will take to use it regularly. 
For example, some people find that nebulizers are easier to use than inhalers. However, they have to be cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis in order to be effective. If you don’t have the time or ability to clean your nebulizer, you might want to consider other options.
Ask your healthcare provider about the effectiveness of a breathing treatment for someone with your symptoms, medical history, and condition. What works for one person with a respiratory illness may not be as effective for someone else. 
For example, people with COPD usually need to use combination inhalers to control their symptoms. Someone with asthma may only have to take one type of medication to prevent an asthma attack.
Breathing treatments deliver medication directly into the lungs. They are used by people with respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to make it easier to breathe. 
The most common breathing treatments for asthma include inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators, usually delivered through an inhaler or nebulizer. Other asthma treatments include bronchial thermoplasty, injectable prescription drugs, oral corticosteroids, anti-leukotriene medications, and natural remedies, such as breathing techniques.
The most common breathing treatments for COPD are corticosteroids, bronchodilators, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and surgery.
Breathing treatments for pneumonia may include bronchodilators, antibiotics, and humidifiers. In severe cases, someone with pneumonia may need breathing assistance from a ventilator.
When considering a potential breathing treatment, it’s important to keep side effects, maintenance, and effectiveness in mind. Your healthcare provider can help you choose the best breathing treatment for your particular needs.
If you or a loved one has difficulty breathing it can be concerning or even frightening. Chronic conditions that interfere with breathing can limit your activities. There are many different kinds of breathing treatments for asthma and other respiratory conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider about which one might work best for you.

If you find it difficult to use an inhaler, there are many other options for treating asthma symptoms. Nebulizers may be easier to use. You can also take oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the airways. Injectable drugs, such as omalizumab (Xolair), may help with persistent symptoms that do not respond to other treatments.
Inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation in the airways, are often the first choice of treatment for asthma.
Also, bronchodilators are often used intermittently when asthma symptoms get worse. These medications are delivered directly into the lungs with devices like inhalers or nebulizers.
Other options include injectable medications, bronchial thermoplasty, and oral corticosteroids. Natural remedies, such as breathing techniques, can also be tried.
Steam can help loosen mucus and soothe airways for some people with asthma. A hot shower or vaporizer can sometimes be helpful in easing mild asthma symptoms. However, heat can be an asthma trigger for some people.
A nebulizer turns liquid medicine into a fine mist that can be breathed in with a mouthpiece or mask. Nebulizers offer quick relief from asthma symptoms because the medication is delivered directly into the lungs. They can open up airways and reduce inflammation, making it easier to breathe.
Sign up for our Health Tip of the Day newsletter, and receive daily tips that will help you live your healthiest life.
Thank you, {{}}, for signing up.
There was an error. Please try again.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Inhalers and nebulizers.
Texas Urgent Care & Imaging Center. What are breathing treatments used for?.
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. Asthma.
University of Michigan Health. Inhaled corticosteroids for asthma.
American Thoracic Society. Nebulizer breathing treatments at home.
Just Nebulizers. Ultrasonic nebulizer vs jet nebulizer.
Soyer Ö, Kahveci M, Büyüktiryaki B, et al. Mesh nebulizer is as effective as jet nebulizer in clinical practice of acute asthma in childrenTurk J Med Sci. 2019;49(4):1008-1013. doi:10.3906/sag-1812-133
MedlinePlus. How to use a metered-dose inhaler – no spacer.
Nemours KidsHealth. What's the difference between a nebulizer and an inhaler?.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. How is asthma treated?.
MedlinePlus. Albuterol oral inhalation.
National Jewish Health. Bronchodilators.
Yale Center for Asthma and Airway Disease. Bronchial thermoplasty.
Welsh EJ, Bara A, Barley E, Cates CJ. Caffeine for asthmaCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;2010(1):CD001112. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001112.pub2 Copy editor: this is the best citation for this fact, although over 10 years old.
Santino TA, Chaves GS, Freitas DA, Fregonezi GA, Mendonça KM. Breathing exercises for adults with asthmaCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;3(3):CD001277. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001277.pub4
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COPD: symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
American Lung Association. COPD symptoms and diagnosis.
American Lung Association. COPD causes and risk factors.
Bollmeier SG, Hartmann AP. Management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A review focusing on exacerbationsAm J Health Syst Pharm. 2020;77(4):259-268. doi:10.1093/ajhp/zxz306
American Lung Association. Managing your COPD medications.
Sibila O, Soto-Gomez N, Restrepo MI. The risk and outcomes of pneumonia in patients on inhaled corticosteroidsPulm Pharmacol Ther. 2015;32:130-136. doi:10.1016/j.pupt.2015.04.001
American Lung Association. Oxygen therapy.
Hardavella G, Karampinis I, Frille A, Sreter K, Rousalova I. Oxygen devices and delivery systemsBreathe (Sheff). 2019;15(3):e108-e116. doi:10.1183/20734735.0204-2019
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. Oxygen therapy.
American Lung Association. Getting started with liquid oxygen.
Anastasaki M, Trigoni M, Pantouvaki A, et al. Establishing a pulmonary rehabilitation programme in primary care in Greece: A FRESH AIR implementation studyChron Respir Dis. 2019;16:1479973119882939. doi:10.1177/1479973119882939
American Lung Association. The basics of pulmonary rehabilitation.
American Lung Association. Surgery for COPD.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Pneumonia.
Janson C, Johansson G, Ställberg B, et al. Identifying the associated risks of pneumonia in COPD patients: ARCTIC an observational studyRespir Res. 2018;19(1):172. doi:10.1186/s12931-018-0868-y
American Lung Association. Pneumonia treatment and recovery.
Ye Q, He XO, D’Urzo A. A review on the safety and efficacy of inhaled corticosteroids in the management of asthmaPulm Ther. 2017;3(1):1-18. doi:10.1007/s41030-017-0043-5
Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America. Weather can trigger asthma.

Thank you, {{}}, for signing up.
There was an error. Please try again.
Actively scan device characteristics for identification. Use precise geolocation data. Store and/or access information on a device. Select personalised content. Create a personalised content profile. Measure ad performance. Select basic ads. Create a personalised ads profile. Select personalised ads. Apply market research to generate audience insights. Measure content performance. Develop and improve products. List of Partners (vendors)