Lung disease that makes breathing difficult 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common lung disease that makes breathing difficult.

There are two types of COPD:

  • Chronic bronchitis – long-term cough with mucus
  • Emphysema – damages the lungs over time

Most patients have a combination of both chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

At Penn State Health, we work closely with our patients to ease the progressive symptoms of COPD. We use spirometers – a small machine that a patient blows into – for immediate lung capacity results. Penn State Health is proud to offer three state-of-the-art spirometers to test patient lung function on-site.  

Additional diagnostic tools your physician might use:

  • A stethoscope to listen to your lungs
  • Imaging tests like an X-ray or CT scan
  • Arterial blood gas test to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide amounts in the blood


At Penn State Health, we are here to help ease your COPD symptoms and prevent your illness from getting worse. There is no cure for COPD, but our team has many treatment options to help you manage this long-term disease.

The best way to slow down lung damage is to quit smoking. If you are a smoker, your physician will help find a quitting support option that fits your lifestyle.

Medications can help to ease your COPD symptoms. Your physician may prescribe the following COPD medications:

  • Inhalers (bronchodilators) to help open the airways
  • Inhaled or oral steroids to reduce lung inflammation
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling in the airways
  • Long-term antibiotics

In severe COPD cases or during a flare-up, you may need to receive:

  • Steroids by mouth or through a vein
  • Bronchodilators through a nebulizer
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Breathing assistance through a machine

In rare or severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook


Symptoms of COPD can vary by patient. Occasionally, patients are unaware that they have COPD because their symptoms develop slowly.

COPD symptoms include:

  • Cough, with or without mucus
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with mild activity (dyspnea)
  • Wheezing

Patients with long-term coughs are encouraged to make an appointment with their physicians for a COPD screening.


At Penn State Health, your health is our top priority. If your physician suspects you have COPD, you will be sent for a spirometry lung function test and diagnostic imaging tests to see if your lungs show signs of COPD.


At Penn State Health, we encourage our COPD patients to take proactive steps to help manage the disease, protect your lungs and stay healthy. Pulmonary rehabilitation does not treat COPD; however, it offers an opportunity to learn more about the condition and trains you to breathe in different ways. With better control over your breathing, you can stay active, feel better and keep your lungs functioning as effectively as possible.

COPD is a long-term illness that will quickly get worse if you continue smoking. Patients with severe COPD might be frequently hospitalized and have additional health problems like osteoporosis, pneumonia and heart failure.

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