In addition to medicines and surgery, other treatments are often used to help relieve some of the symptoms associated with COPD. These treatments help reduce phlegm and other pulmonary secretions and make breathing easier.

Postural Bronchial Drainage

This procedure is designed to help remove secretions from the airways. You are instructed to lie in various positions that allow gravity to drain fluids from different parts of your lungs. This is usually done after inhaling an aerosol that loosens secretions.

Chest Percussion

In this procedure, a respiratory therapist lightly claps the chest and back. This helps to dislodge large amounts of secretions and makes them easier to cough up and spit out.

While widely used, the evidence supporting the effectiveness of postural drainage or chest percusion is weaker than that for supplemental oxygen treatment (discussed below).

Supplemental Oxygen

Supplemental oxygen may be provided in the hospital or as home oxygen therapy. There are three common means of oxygen delivery. A nasal cannula is a two-pronged device inserted in the nostrils that is connected to tubing carrying the oxygen. The tubing can rest on the ears or be attached to the frame of eyeglasses. People who need a high flow of oxygen generally use a mask. Some people who use a nasal cannula during the day prefer a mask at night or when their noses are irritated or clogged by a cold. Transtracheal oxygen therapy requires the insertion of a small flexible catheter in the trachea or windpipe. The transtracheal catheter is held in place by a necklace.

Oxygen therapy raises low blood oxygen levels, enhances your ability to tolerate exercise, and improves mental function. It also improves heart function and helps to prevent some of the heart complications of COPD. You may require oxygen only during waking hours or you may need it at all times throughout the day. Make sure that you understand how many hours a day you should be using oxygen, and follow the prescription closely.

If you are using supplemental oxygen, it is extremely important that you do not smoke cigarettes or come in contact with other sources of fire or flame, such as candles or gas stoves, since this could produce an explosive reaction. You should also avoid drinking alcohol or sedatives, since these can slow your breathing rate.

When to Contact Your Doctor

While on supplemental oxygen therapy, contact your doctor if:

  • You develop a headache, blue lips, confusion, or agitation
  • Your breathing becomes very shallow
  • You are still very tired following slight exertion
  • You develop tenderness or chafing around your ears or near the nasal cannula (tube)
  • You notice signs of contamination in the tubing (mold, clumps, etc.)