The best available drugs to treat sudden COPD flare-ups are the medications already widely in use, antibiotics and corticosteroids, a new evidence review has concluded.
There’s not enough evidence to recommend newer treatments for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), says lead researcher Dr. Claudia Dobler, a visiting scholar at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Surprisingly, there’s not even much research available for so-called rescue inhalers, even though doctors know that the short-acting bronchodilators can help restore breathing during a flare-up, she adds.
“We know from practice they do release breathlessness,” Dobler shares. “But there are two types available, and there’s nothing really to guide us about whether one is better than the other, or whether a combination of the two is better than just one alone.”
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What works best for flare-ups?
For this study, Dobler’s team analyzed results from 68 clinical trials to see if they could suss out which drugs would best help patients who are struggling to draw breath due to a COPD flare-up.
“We found more evidence to confirm previous findings that antibiotics work and so do corticosteroids,” Dobler says. “We have collected more support for what is already being done, but really nothing for any new treatments.”
Sixteen million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). People with COPD find it progressively harder to draw breath.
COPD is caused by long-term exposure to irritants that damage the lungs and airways. Smoking is the main risk factor; as many as three out of four people with COPD either smoke or used to smoke, the NHLBI says.
Antibiotics help COPD patients by eliminating bacterial infections that clog the airways, Dobler says.
“Once a patient gets worse, their lungs are more susceptible to getting infected with bacteria,” she adds. “From that point of view, it makes a lot of sense to treat these people for infection.”
Corticosteroids ease breathing by reducing inflammation that