COPD Treatment & Common Types of Inhaler

COPD is an irreversible and progressively worsening lung disease. Read about common types of inhaler and treatment options.

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For people who have been diagnosed with COPD, there are two types of inhalers that can be used for treatment. Short-acting bronchodilator inhalers and long-acting Bronchodilators inhalers. Learn about the different types of COPD inhalers, and which medications might work best for you.

For patients who have been diagnosed with COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, it can be a troubling time. 

Along with causes, symptoms and triggers, there’s a whole host of information to interpret and understand, let alone tackling the complex world of treatments.

And whilst there’s currently no cure for COPD, studies have shown that specific types of treatment can help slow the progression of the condition and control the symptoms there are certain inhalers that can help to relax symptoms and make breathing breathing easier by widening the airways. 

From short-acting bronchodilator inhalers, such as Salbutamol and Terbutaline to longer-acting inhalers like Salmeterol and Formoterol, there are various forms of treatment to manage this debilitating disease.

But first, let’s look at the key differences between the various forms of treatment…

Types of Inhalers

Most COPD inhalers are prescription only, but there are some inhalers which are available over the counter. 

However, if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with COPD, it is strongly recommended to speak with your GP or doctor before trying out any over-the-counter inhaler.

☆ Inhalers offer inhaled medication in three forms 

  • MDI or Metered-Dose Inhaler

Also known as a “puffer”, these are used to inhale liquid medication and require being inhaled slowly, often using a spacer in one single burst.

  • DPI or Dry Powder Medication

These are inhaled without a spacer and used to deliver medications such as inhaled corticosteroids into the lungs. They should be utilised by the patient tightly wrapping their lips around the mouthpiece to ensure no air escapes.

This type of inhaler delivers the medication in a slow mist. It therefore doesn’t depend on how fast the medication is inhaled.

Types of Medication


COPD patients will usually reach for the their Bronchodilator as the first type of treatment when it comes to managing their symptoms. Short-acting bronchodilators are used as a “quick relief” or “rescue” medication.

This type of COPD inhaler works by relaxing the muscles around the lungs’ airways. It not only helps to open up the airways, but it makes breathing easier. Now, there’s a sigh of relief.

There are two types of short-acting bronchodilator inhaler:

Such as ipratropium

In fairly mild cases of COPD, A GP may prescribe a short-acting bronchodilator to use in COPD exacerbations or when these symptoms flare-up. Short acting bronchodilators are taken every 4 to 6 hours as needed.

If your symptoms are experiences more regularly throughout the day, then you’ll likely be prescribed a long-acting bronchodilator inhaler by your doctor.

These work in a very similar way to short-acting bronchodilators, except that each dose lasts for at least 12 hours. As these last longer, COPD sufferers will only need to be used once or twice a day.

There are two types of long-acting bronchodilator inhaler:

  • Beta-2 agonist inhalers.

These include salmeterol, formoterol and indacaterol 

Such as tiotropium, glycopyrronium and aclidinium

Medications such as Formoterol fumarate and salmeterol are longer-acting beta2 agonists which are also taken in inhaler form.

In more severe cases of COPD, it is much more likely that you will be prescribed both a short-term and long-term bronchodilator. You would use the long-term bronchodilator every 12 hours as usually required, but effectively top this off with the short-acting bronchodilator, as you need it.


Another type of treatment available to COPD patients are Glucocorticosteroids – often referred to simply as steroids or inhaled corticosteroids (ICS). These are most often used alongside bronchodilator treatments in more severe cases of COPD.  Common types are beclomethasone and betamethasone.

These types of treatments help to open up the airways as well and most doctors will prescribe these for a period of 6 weeks to 3 months to see they help to improve breathing alongside current COPD inhaler treatment.

The steroids help reduce inflammation, swelling, and mucus in the airways.

Treatment for Children

When it comes to treating little ones with COPD, treatment with inhalers are slightly different.

A pressurised metered-dose inhaler should be used with a spacer device in children under 5 years. 

A beta2 agonist may also be given by mouth but administration by inhalation is much preferred by doctors for administration.

10 Most Common Types of COPD Inhaler


As a prescription COPD and asthma medicine, Advair is a combination of two medications: fluticasone, a corticosteroid, and salmeterol, a long-acting bronchodilator. 

Studies show the benefits of this type of inhaler when it comes to the management of COPD.


Brovana is a long-acting bronchodilator, containing arformoterol tartrate. It is used as an inhalation solution that contains a long-acting beta2-adrenergic agonist (also know as LABA). 

Brovana is usually prescribed twice daily, once in the morning and one in the evening, and for use as a long-term maintenance treatment for adults with COPD. 

It is used to control wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. 

It works to help relax the airways and make it easier to breathe. 

It does not treat asthma.


Originally used for the treatment of asthma, is now utilised as a way to treat and manage COPD. Symbicort contains formoterol, a long-acting bronchodilator, and budesonide, a corticosteroid. It is used two times a day.

Symbicort is not used for sudden severe symptoms of COPD or asthma.


Pulmicort is a brand name for the medicine Budesonide. It is used for inhalation and is a corticosteroid used to prevent breathing difficulties, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing caused by respiratory disorders. 

In this case, it can be used for both COPD and asthma.

It works in the way that all corticosteroids work, as it helps to reduce swelling and irritation in the airways, making airflow easier and therefore making it easier for you to breathe.


Proventil is a rescue inhaler, which means it will help as an immediate treatment for any breathing problems associated with COPD.

It contains albuterol, a short-acting, beta-agonist bronchodilator. Helping to immediately relax the airways, Proventil is used by patients for sudden, onset episodes of ​shortness of breath. It can be administered in both asthma and​ COPD patients.​​

One study found that the use of this type of inhaler is associated with decreased Emergency Department visits.


Used as a maintenance treatment for COPD, and trusted for use for more than 10 years, Spiriva contains a medication called tiotropium, which is an anticholinergic bronchodilator.

 It turns into a slow-moving mist that that works to reduce flare-ups without steroids. Inhaling the mist deeply two times, once a day, opens and relaxes the airways, making it easier to breathe.