If you have COPD, your number one responsibility as a patient is to do what your doctor says and take all your medications as prescribed. This might sound simple on the surface but, in reality, it's much easier said than done.
Like most chronic diseases, COPD is not an easy condition to treat. Many COPD patients have a laundry list of medications and other treatments they have to manage every day.
These medications and treatments are life-saving; they make it easier to breathe and help keep serious COPD symptoms and complications under control. Unfortunately, far too many people with COPD don't take their medications as correctly and consistently as they should.
That's why we've created this guide to show you a variety of practical tips and techniques for managing COPD treatments. We'll show you all the steps you need to take to make sure you use your medications correctly and how to avoid common COPD treatment mistakes.
The more you know about your treatments, the more active role you can take in your health, and the better you will be able to manage your disease. That's why it's important to learn everything you can about your COPD medications and how to use them in the most correct and effective way.
Most People are Bad at Taking Their Medications
How well you take your medications and do the treatments your doctor recommends is a concept known as treatment compliance or medication adherence. Good compliance or adherence means that you follow your doctor's instructions, complete all your treatments, and take all your medications correctly and on time. Poor compliance or adherence simply means that you fail to do at least one of those things consistently.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of people in just about every health and disease category fail to take their medications properly. This is a problem that affects older adults in particular; up to 58% of seniors make mistakes when taking their medication, and more than 25% make a serious mistake.
Studies also show that as many as 63 percent of COPD patients don't take their medications correctly, and that percentage may be even higher if you include improper inhaler use. This high failure rate results in a great deal of unnecessary suffering for those who don't take their medication as prescribed.
In many ways, these statistics are understandable, even as they are still a major cause for concern. COPD treatment regimens can be confusing, time-consuming, and involve many types of medications, which makes them particularly challenging to get right.
COPD Treatment Plans are Complex
COPD is not a static disease; the symptoms get steadily worse over time and they can vary from day to day. What's more, the risk of exacerbation is always around the corner, especially in the later stages of the disease.
Because of this, COPD treatment plans usually change several times over the course of the disease. Many people with COPD also have to follow dynamic treatment plans that involve adjusting their daily treatment according to certain symptom changes.
This type of treatment plan—known as a COPD action plan—helps you keep your symptoms under control when they flare up. However, it also makes treatment more complex and introduces more opportunities to do things wrong.
COPD patients also have a high risk of making mistakes simply because of the sheer number of treatments they have to manage. It's not uncommon for someone with severe COPD to have to take half a dozen medications in addition to supplemental oxygen therapy.
It's Easier to Mess Up Than It Is to Do it Right
When it comes to taking medications, there's a lot that can go wrong. It's easy to make mistakes without realizing it, such as taking the wrong dose or using an empty inhaler.
Every step and instruction for taking your medication is important, and there can be a lot of them to remember. But skipping even one of them can have dangerous consequences that range from worsened symptoms to life-threatening complications.
Unfortunately, people with COPD tend to take medications that are particularly difficult to use, including inhalers, nebulizers, and supplemental oxygen therapy. Doing these treatments correctly can be a difficult skill to master, requiring several steps and precise technique.
|Nebulizer image from Trainer2a on Wikipedia|
Keeping up with these complex treatments is even more challenging for those who are struggling with serious physical or mental symptoms caused by COPD. When you are struggling just to get out of bed, go up the stairs, or remember things, having to adhere to a strict schedule of multiple medications and treatments can be a lot to handle.
What Happens When You Don't Use Medications Correctly: Does it Really Matter?
At this point, you might be wondering if it's really that big of a deal if you don't follow your treatment or medication instructions exactly. The answer is yes, it is a big deal if you don't adhere to your treatment consistently.
You shouldn't mistake the fact that poor treatment compliance is so common for meaning that it's nothing to worry about. It's actually a major issue, which is why COPD doctors and researchers have dedicated so much time and effort to understanding and solving this problem.
However, nobody is perfect, and there's usually no reason to worry if you only make a mistake every once in a while. On the other hand, you should always make it a top priority to take your medications on time and adhere to all the other treatments your doctor prescribes.
If you don't comply with treatment or forget to take your medication too often, it can make it much more difficult to control your symptoms and manage your disease. This leads to worsened breathing problems, exacerbations, and other COPD complications that can hurt your quality of life.
For instance, one study showed that COPD patients who didn't use their inhalers correctly had worse symptoms, including coughing and more severe shortness of breath, than patients who practiced proper inhaler technique.
- Less ability to control COPD symptoms
- Increased shortness of breath
- Increased risk for COPD exacerbations
- Increased risk of death (poor treatment adherence can double or triple your mortality risk)
- More frequent hospitalizations
- Increased health care needs and disease-related costs
- Reduced quality of life
Even things that seem minor, like skipping a step when you use your inhaler, can have a major effect on how well your medication works. You could end up getting too small a dose, too large a dose, or not getting any medication at all.
In some cases, using medications incorrectly can cause dangerous side effects or life-threatening complications. If your supplemental oxygen flow is not set right, for example, it can lead to dangerous breathing problems, including severe hypercapnea (high blood carbon dioxide levels) and death in the most extreme cases.
Are You a Compliant Patient?
When you're taking several medications and have a complex disease, it's normal—and even expected—to make small mistakes here and there. However, those mistakes should be few and far between, and overall you should be following your treatments exactly as prescribed.
Unfortunately, many people don't even realize how poorly they are complying with treatment or how frequently they make mistakes. You might make more mistakes than you realize, which is why it's important to give it some serious consideration.
You can get a better idea of your overall compliance by answering a few yes or no questions about your medication habits. The following questions are part of the Medication Adherence Questionnaire (PDF link), a scale that is used often by doctors and researchers to measure how well a patient is adhering to their medication.
To use this scale, choose either “yes” or “no” as an answer to each question or statement. Choose the answer that is most accurate based on your actions and beliefs during the past week.
Medication Adherence Questions:
- Do you ever forget to take your medication?
- Are you careless at times about taking your medication?
- When you feel better, do you sometimes stop taking your medication?
- Sometimes if you feel worse when you take the medication, do you stop taking it?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you probably aren't taking your medication as consistently and correctly as you should. The more questions you respond “yes” to, the poorer your medication adherence is.
You can use these questions to help you identify where things are going wrong, and use that insight to find solutions. You should also tell your doctor if you're having trouble taking your medications as prescribed for any reason; this will not only help your doctor make better decisions about your treatment, but will also give your doctor the opportunity to offer solutions and advice.
Common COPD Medication Mistakes to Avoid
We've talked already about how poor treatment adherence is alarmingly common among people with COPD. However, we haven't talked much about what kinds of mistakes patients are making and what exactly they are failing to do.
Research shows that there are several specific areas of treatment that tend to be the most problematic, including taking medication consistently and using proper inhaler technique. If you or someone you love has COPD, it's important to be aware of these common problems so you can avoid making the same mistakes.
Taking Medications Based on How You Feel
One common, yet dangerous, mistake that patients make is stopping their medication when their COPD symptoms start to get better. Some people think that, because they feel fine, they don't need to continue taking their medication.
However, this is not true; you should always take your medication exactly as your doctor tells you to, regardless of how good or bad your COPD symptoms are. If you notice your symptoms improve, you should take it as a sign that your medication is working, and continue to take it as prescribed.
It's important to trust your doctor's advice and remain diligent about your treatment, even if you sometimes feel like it's not necessary to take your medication. If you have any problems or concerns, bring them up with your doctor instead of trying to take things into your own hands.
You need to take your medications consistently every day in order to keep your symptoms under control. Reducing your dose, stopping your medication, or taking it inconsistently will only make it more difficult to manage your disease.
Not Reading the Instructions
When you pick up your medication from the pharmacy, it usually comes with a packet of papers with detailed information about your medicine. Many people simply ignore this packet or throw it in the trash as soon as they get home.
However, this packet contains all kinds of valuable knowledge meant to help you take your medicine correctly and avoid dangerous mistakes. While it might seem like a lot to go through, you should take the time to read through the whole packet for each medication you take.
If you don't, you could miss vital health warnings or important information about dosages, side-effects, drug interactions, and more. It's also a good idea to keep these information packets in a file at home in case you need to reference them later.
Medical stuff can be tricky, however, and reading about your medication will only help you if you understand what it means. That's what your doctor and pharmacist are there for; they can help you go through the information and explain anything else about the medication that you need to understand.
Not Using Your Inhaler Correctly
Even though inhalers are the main line of treatment for COPD symptoms, the vast majority of people don't actually use them correctly. The numbers are actually quite alarming: up to 90% of COPD patients fail to use proper inhaler technique.
Research also shows that improper inhaler use can significantly affect how well the medication works. It can worsen respiratory symptoms, increase your risk of being hospitalized, and may even double your chances of developing a COPD exacerbation.
Here is a list of some of the most common inhaler mistakes you should avoid (note that some only apply to certain types of inhalers):
- Not using the spacer correctly
- Using an empty inhaler (e.g. not checking the dose counter or making sure there is a spray)
- Not priming the inhaler before use
- Not exhaling before taking a dose
- Not inhaling at the correct time when taking a dose
- Inhaling too quickly
- Not aiming the inhaler correctly (it should spray toward the back of your throat)
- Not holding your breath after taking a dose
- Not using correct head and body posture
- Not rinsing out your mouth after using a steroid inhaler
All of these mistakes can affect your dosage and how well your medication works. That's why it is vital to learn how to use your inhaler correctly and avoid making blunders like these.
Not Using Oxygen As Often As You Should
|Image from rick on flickr.|
Poor treatment compliance is a major issue among people with COPD who use supplemental oxygen therapy. This is often due to inconvenience, discomfort, and worries about how it might look in public.
Research shows that a large percentage COPD patients who use long-term supplemental oxygen therapy use oxygen for fewer hours per day than their doctor prescribed. Another 23% of patients refuse to ever use their oxygen outside their homes, in spite of their doctor's instructions to do so.
But even though oxygen therapy can be difficult and uncomfortable, it's very important to use it exactly as you're supposed to. If your doctor prescribes it, then you need it to keep your blood oxygen levels from dropping dangerously low (a condition known as hypoxemia).
Failing to use oxygen correctly will worsen hypoxemia, which can lead to serious health conditions including heart problems, cognitive impairment, respiratory failure, and even death. That's why it's imperative to use your oxygen, and use it correctly, despite how challenging it might be.
It's easy to focus on the negatives, but you should instead try to focus on the fact that oxygen is a life-saving medication that can make your life better rather than worse. It's not always easy to integrate oxygen therapy into your life, but for many people it is a necessary part of treating COPD.
Not Using a COPD Action Plan
Any person who takes medication for COPD should have a proper COPD action plan. This ensures that you always have a clear set of instructions to guide you when taking your daily medications and treatments.
COPD treatment is rarely simple, which is why verbal instructions from your doctor and basic medication schedules aren't enough; you need a clear and thorough written plan. If you don't have a proper COPD action plan to guide you, you will be much more likely to take your medication incorrectly and make other risky mistakes.
Unlike a simple medication schedule, an action plan is dynamic; it tells you how to treat your symptoms based on how severe they are that day. It is essentially a set of several medication schedules with instructions for how and when to use each one.
For example, you would have a plan for typical days, when your symptoms are at baseline, and a different plan for atypical days when you feel worse than you usually do. Each plan tells you which medications—and how much—to take, as well as how you should adjust your activity level and other treatment-related advice.
Once you have an action plan, it's important to make sure you understand it and remember to follow it every day. That means means paying close attention to your symptoms, knowing how to choose the right plan, and knowing what the instructions in each plan mean.
To learn about COPD actions plans and see some examples of what they look like, take a look at our guide on the topic here.
Important Things to Know About Your Medications
In order to take your medications properly, you should have a thorough understanding of each medication and treatment you use. That includes basic things like the correct way to take your medications and how much you're supposed to take, and more detailed information like any interactions they have with other drugs and medications.
Ideally, most of the practical information you need to know about your medication should be included in your COPD action plan. However, your action plan is simply an overview of your treatment, and it won't give you all of the detailed information you need to use your medications responsibly.
The more you learn about your medications, the less likely you are to make errors that could affect your medication or put your health at risk. Here's a quick overview of what you should know and where to get the information you need.
Know the Name and Purpose of Your Medication
First of all, it's important to know the name and the general purpose of each medication you take. In other words, you should be able to answer the following questions: What is your medication called, what do you take it for, and what is it supposed to do?
You need this knowledge to understand your treatment plan and why you need to take your medications. It will also help you better communicate with your doctor and others about your treatment.
Fortunately, this kind of basic information is generally easy to find. You can get it from your doctor, your pharmacist, your prescription info packet, or the information printed on medication bottle or packaging.
However, it's best to get this information first hand from your doctor, who can explain the purpose of your medication in easy-to-understand terms. He can also help you understand how the medication benefits your specific condition, and what kinds of outcomes you can expect.
Know Your Dosage and Frequency
Dosage is everything in medicine; if you get too much or too little of a medication, it can significantly change its effects. That's why, in order to take your medication correctly, you need to know exactly how much medicine you're supposed to take.
This is known as your dosage, and getting it right is vital for ensuring your medication works as it should. Your dose frequency is also important, which simply means you need to know how long you're supposed to wait between each dose.
For example, your medication instructions might say to take a dose every certain number of hours, or give you a maximum number of doses you can take in a 24-hour period. Your doctor might also give you more specific instructions for how often you should take your medication every day.
Know When to Take Your Medications
In many cases, you should take your medication at a specific time every day. For example, your doctor might tell you to use your daily inhaler right after you get up in the morning.
These time-based instructions are important to know and follow, because when you take your medication can affect how well it works. It's also important to keep the dose schedule for each different medication straight; that's where having a detailed medication schedule really comes in handy.
You also need to know when to take medications that are reserved for specific circumstances, such as when your symptoms get worse. You'll likely have a set of medications to take every day (e.g. long-acting bronchodilators), medications you can use as-needed (e.g. a short-acting rescue inhaler), and a set of medications you're only supposed to use when you notice the signs of an oncoming exacerbation (e.g. antibiotics and corticosteroids).
Make sure you know the differences between all these different medications, and know when to use them per your COPD action plan. Pay special attention to as-needed medications like rescue inhalers (and sometimes supplemental oxygen), which can be particularly tricky to use correctly.
Know What to Do if You Miss a Dose
No matter how careful you are, you're bound to accidentally miss a dose sooner or later. Whenever that happens, you'll need to know what to do next.
For example, let's say you just realized that you forgot an inhaler dose that you were supposed to take earlier. Should you go ahead and take the missed dose now, or wait until the next dose you have scheduled?
The answer will likely depend on a variety of things, including the type of medication and how long it's been since the missed dose. If you ask your doctor, he can tell you what to do in a specific case, and how to handle similar situations in the future.
The information that comes with your medication may also give you advice for what to do when you miss a dose. Whatever you do, it's best not to wing it; you should seek out actual expert advice.
Understand the Health Warnings
All medications come with a list of health warnings, whether it's on the package label or in the information packet that comes with a prescription. These warnings tell you about certain health conditions, lifestyles, or behaviors that could make the medication more dangerous or simply change how it works.
For example, you might have noticed that most over-the-counter painkillers come with a specific warning that says you shouldn't take the medication if you drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day. Your medication might have similar types of warnings about certain activities and health conditions that could affect the medication.
Warnings can tell you about:
- Things that could make your medication less effective (e.g. certain foods, drugs, or supplements)
- Health conditions that make the medication less safe to use (e.g. high blood pressure)
- Circumstances in which you should stop taking the medication (e.g. in the case of serious side effects)
- Circumstances in which you should never take the medication
- When to ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice
- Drug interactions (which we'll discuss more in the next section)
It's important to take the time to familiarize yourself with these warnings for each of the medications you take. If you notice any warnings that concern you or that you believe might apply to you, you should immediately bring it to your doctor's or pharmacist's attention.
Know the Active Ingredients & Drug Interactions
It's good to know all the active ingredients in each of your medications, as well as any drug interactions they have. A “drug interaction” refers to any other food, drug, or medication that could be affected by the medicine you take.
Drug interactions vary widely; some can add to the effects of your medicine, some can make it less effective, and some can cause life-threatening health problems. It's important to know what these interactions are so that you can avoid taking anything that could interfere with your medication or otherwise put your health at risk.
Both your doctor and pharmacist should make sure that none of your prescriptions have dangerous interactions with one another before giving you a medication. However, medical professionals sometimes make mistakes, or don't have complete enough information to detect the interactions.
That's why it's important to always give your doctor and pharmacist the most accurate and up-to-date information about your health and the medications you are taking. It's also a good idea to check the drug interactions yourself, in the off-chance you notice something your doctor might have missed.
It's especially important to consider drug interactions with over-the-counter medications that you can get without a doctor's prescription. In fact, just to be safe, you should always ask your doctor before taking an over-the-counter medication when you have a chronic disease.
Some drug interactions are more pertinent than others; for example, you should know whether or not your medicine will interact with common drugs like alcohol or over-the-counter medication. You don't have to memorize all the more obscure interactions, but you should keep a list of them handy.
You should also keep a master list of all your medications that includes:
- Basic information about your medications: e.g. name, dosage, frequency, when you started taking the medication
- Basic information about your health: e.g. diseases, allergies, and other health conditions
- Basic information about your treatment: e.g. the names and contact info for your primary care doctor and other members of your treatment team
You can ask your doctor to print this information for you, or you can write it down yourself. This personal medication record template from the AARP is a great place to start.
While this information might not come in handy every day, you'll be glad to have it when you need it. It can be a great resource when you travel, or if you visit a doctor or emergency room that doesn't have your records already on file.
Know How to Store Your Medications
Most medications need to be stored at a certain temperature in order to ensure they work properly and don't degrade over time. It's okay to store most medications at room temperature, but some have special storage instructions (e.g. medications that need to be refrigerated).
In most cases, you should keep your medication in a cool, dry, dark place like a closet or medicine cabinet. Many medications can get damaged by excessive cold or heat, so you should avoid leaving them in your car, garage, or any other place that's prone to temperature extremes.
You should be able to find instructions for how to store your medication on the medicine's bottle or other packaging. When in doubt, you can always ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
How to Take Your COPD Medications Properly
Now that we've gone over some of the common COPD treatment mistakes and all the major medication facts you need to know, let's look at what you actually need to do to take your medications properly. We'll cover the basic steps for ensuring you adhere to your treatment plan and give you a variety of practical tips you can use to keep yourself on track.
Know Your Treatments In and Out
It can be difficult to remember which medications to take in different circumstances, or what to do when you feel an exacerbation coming on. That's why it's important to get clear instructions from your doctor as well as a thorough COPD action plan you can reference at home.
First of all, you should ask your doctor to go over your treatment plan with you in its entirety. Then, make sure you have all the information about your medication (dosage, warnings, steps for correct use, etc.) that we discussed in the previous section.
Don't ever hesitate to ask questions, and remember that you can always call your doctor for advice when you're at home. It's your doctor's job to give you as much explanation as you need to fully understand all the concepts and instructions related to your health.
No matter how many times you have to do it, don't ever feel too embarrassed to ask your doctor to repeat himself or explain something to you again. While you might think your doctor is too busy, a good doctor will appreciate you taking an interest in your health and will make time (even if he needs to schedule it) to discuss it with you.
This is why it's so important to have a doctor you trust and feel comfortable working with. If your doctor refuses to have a two-way dialogue, it might be time to look for a new doctor who is more willing to help you look after your health.
Make a Clear Personal Schedule
Once you have all the information that you need to understand your treatments, the rest is up to you. As you manage your disease at home, you'll have to figure out how to fit your treatments into your schedule and ensure that you take your medications on time—and correctly—every day.
That's why it's important to come up with a personal schedule for your daily medications and treatments. This schedule should tell you when to take your medications (e.g. as soon as you get up in the morning), how much you should take (e.g. two inhaler sprays), and any specific instructions you need to remember (e.g. check the dose counter to make sure your inhaler isn't empty).
Even if you sometimes take different medications (or different dosages) to treat symptom flare-ups and exacerbations, your daily medication schedule should reflect the treatment plan you use on normal days. That said, you should still keep your COPD action plan handy, and refer back to it often to make sure that your personal routine follows the instructions in your action plan.
Having a simple schedule like this to reference will make it much easier to remember to take your medications throughout the day and reduce the chances of making mistakes. Having a set schedule will also make it easier to form new habits and integrate treatments into your daily routine.
Here are some tips for making your medication schedule:
- Try to schedule your doses with other activities that are already part of your daily routine (e.g. pair evening medications with your bedtime routine by taking them before you brush your teeth).
- Print out an existing medication schedule template or use it as inspiration for designing your own
- Include all information that's pertinent to taking each medication, including:
- The name of the medication
- The correct dose amount
- The correct dose frequency (including maximum limits)
- The scheduled times to take your dose
- Instructions for taking the dose (e.g. steps for proper inhaler use)
Always Take Your Medications on Time
Most COPD medications need to be taken on a schedule, which means you are supposed to take them at certain specific times during the day. This ensures that you space your doses out appropriately in a way that allows the medication to do its job.
Sometimes you'll be advised to take your medication within a certain general time period, e.g. once in the morning and once in the evening. In some cases it may be more precise; you might be told to take your medication once every four hours, or at a specific time every day.
Whatever the instructions for your medication are, it's important to follow them as closely as you can. If you're supposed to take a medication every four hours, you should always do your best to take it as close to that four-hour mark as possible, not too early or too late.
Unfortunately, human memory often just isn't that reliable. It's easy to skip a dose on accident or forget the last time you took your medication, especially when you have multiple medications to take.
Your memory of taking a dose one day can blur into the next, causing you to mis-remember the last time you took it. This can cause you to miss a dose, or even double your dose if you forget you've already taken it that day.
The best way to avoid this is to take memory out of the equation by setting up a physical system to keep track. You could set alarms on your mobile phone, record your doses in a medication journal, or use physical reminders like post-it notes around your home.
There are lots of ways to keep track of your medication schedule, and it's up to you to find a method that works. It might take some trial and error, but with a little effort and creativity you're bound to find a system that fits well with your personal lifestyle and tastes.
Here are some ideas for keeping track of when you're supposed to take your medication:
- Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you when you need to take a dose.
- Check off your daily medications on your calendar or planner after you take them (or keep track in a dedicated medication journal).
- Use a mobile application (like MyMeds) to track your doses and set alerts.
- Use a smart inhaler to track your doses and medication adherence.
- Ask a friend or family member to help you manage your medications and remind you to take doses.
Always Take the Correct Dosage
Dosage is one of those things that requires precision; you should always take the exact dose your doctor prescribes. You should never alter your dose unless the instructions for doing so are explicitly laid out in your COPD action plan.
Even if your symptoms get better, or you feel like you don't need your medication, you should never reduce or skip a dose. Take your medication according to your treatment plan every day, and don't make any changes without getting permission from your doctor first.
Correct dosing is pretty straightforward for many medications; all you have to do is take a certain number of pills to get the right amount. Dosage gets much more tricky, however, when it comes to other medications like oxygen and inhalers.
Even though inhalers are designed to dispense specific doses, you can get the wrong amount simply by using improper technique. There's at least a dozen things you can do wrong without even realizing it, which is why so many people with COPD, asthma, and other respiratory diseases routinely make mistakes.
This can be dangerous, especially if you believe you are getting a full dose when you are not. Your medication is your first line of defense against COPD symptoms, and getting the correct amount is vital for managing the disease.
Pay Close Attention to Your Inhaler Technique
While this is closely related to the issue of dosage, it's worth taking a moment to discuss correct inhaler technique. Incorrect inhaler use is one of the most common mistakes COPD patients make, and it can significantly reduce your ability to manage the disease.
Unfortunately, there is a wide variety of different inhalers prescribed for COPD, and each has its own unique instructions. That means that correct inhaler technique is not universal, but rather specific to the type of medication you take.
This is important to remember, since you will likely have to learn a different set of steps for each different inhaler you use. If you ever switch medications or get prescribed a new inhaler, you can't assume that the technique you used with a different inhaler will work.
That's why it's so important to read the instructions for your inhaler carefully and follow them exactly every time. You should also go over your inhaler technique with your doctor to make sure you're getting it right.
Even if you've been using the same inhaler for awhile, it doesn't hurt to refresh your memory and re-examine your technique. Once the habit has become routine, it's easy to get a bit lazy or simply forget a step.
That's why doctors generally recommend that anyone who uses an inhaler demonstrate how they use it in front of their doctor at regular visits. This allows your doctor to correct your technique, if needed, and answer any questions you have.
If you're not sure how to use your inhaler, you can always ask your doctor or even your pharmacist for advice. They can explain the instructions, help you go through the steps, and demonstrate the correct technique.
Here are some general tips for ensuring you use your inhaler correctly:
- Keep a “cheat sheet” you can reference that lists all the steps for using your inhalers
- Always bring your inhalers to your doctor's appointments
- Practice using your inhaler in front of your doctor or pharmacist
- Re-examine your inhaler's instructions every so often to refresh your memory and re-evaluate your technique
Don't Skip Any Steps
If your medication comes with a specific set of steps to follow, you need to remember to do them, correctly and in order, every time. No matter how pointless or tedious it seems, it's not worth taking shortcuts that could affect how well your medicine works.
Cutting corners and leaving out steps makes it more likely that your medication will be ineffective because you're not getting your full prescribed dose. It could also cause you to get too large a dose, which can result in serious side effects.
Not following instructions exactly can also make it difficult for your doctor to determine whether or not your medication is working. He might, for example, adjust your medication dosage when your symptoms get worse when, in reality, poor medication adherence is causing you not to get the full dose that your doctor had originally prescribed.
Check Expiration Dates and Dose Counters
It's easy to make the mistake of taking an expired medication or using an inhaler that's already empty. That's why you should always pay attention to details like expiration dates and dose counters on your medications.
If you take a medication after it has expired, it may not work as expected—or at all. Its especially important to check expiration dates on medications you don't use that often, including any medications (like antibiotics) your doctor instructs you to keep on hand in case of a COPD exacerbation.
Don't Let Your Medication Run Out
You should always make sure that you pick up a new round of medicine before your current supply runs out. You don't want to take the risk of not having the medication you need while you wait for your new prescription to come in.
These lapses in treatment can be dangerous; they create an opening for inflammation and exacerbations to take hold. They can make your symptoms worse and make it more difficult to bring them back to baseline even after you start taking your medication again.
To prevent this from happening, you need to make sure that you keep track of your medication and how many doses you have left. Then, you need to make sure to turn in your next prescription and pick it up before you run out.
In many cases, you can refill monthly prescriptions at least a few days before they are due. Many pharmacies even allow you to set up automatic refills, and will even give you a call or text reminder when they're ready to be picked up.
You'll also need to plan for travel and any other situation (e.g. a weather emergency) where you'll be in danger of running out of medication before you can get more. In those cases, make sure you work something out with your doctor ahead of time; he may be able to give you extra medication or make other arrangements to ensure you get your medicine on time.
If it's inconvenient for you to go in to your pharmacy in person, you can see if there are any local pharmacies that offer mail or home delivery services. If they don't, you might be able to find an online mail-order pharmacy that will deliver your medication directly to your home.
Keep a Medication Diary
It's easy to overestimate how well you comply with treatment if you don't explicitly keep track. You might, for example, not even realize you're skipping a step or underestimate how often you accidentally miss a dose.
That's why it's a good idea to write everything about your medication down in one place where you can reference it whenever you need to. Keeping a medication diary is an easy way to do just that while also helping you stay accountable.
Your medication diary can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, as long as it helps you track your medication adherence. You can also include things like your daily medication schedule, specific medication instructions, and other information you might need to reference.
For example, your medication diary could be a planner or notebook that you use to write down the date and time each time you take a dose. You could also use a computer document or mobile application instead of a physical notebook.
You could even use a medication diary document template or put together spreadsheet for tracking things in a more organized fashion. You could also expand the scope of your journal to include daily symptom records, which can help you get a fuller picture of how your treatment is going.
However you decide to do it, keeping a medication diary makes it much easier for both you and your doctor to evaluate how well you're keeping up with your treatment. It's much more reliable than using your memory alone, and it can help you identify patterns and errors you didn't notice before.
Remember Why You're Taking Your Medications
It's important to remember that you take your medicine for a very important reason. Your medication regimen is more than than just a responsibility or a burden—it's a miracle of modern medicine that can make you feel better and improve your quality of life.
Even though it might not always feel like the medicine is helping, daily COPD medications tend to work behind the scenes. They work constantly in your system to keep your symptoms stable and maintain your baseline ability to breathe.
COPD treatment is all about maintenance; you can't cure the disease, but COPD medications can keep your symptoms in check and help prevent a variety of serious health complications. You're not likely to notice the effects of medications you take every day to control your disease, but there would be a noticeable difference if you were not taking them at all.
It's easy to forget this, however, especially when you get bogged down by the inconvenience of managing a whole cabinet of different medications. That's when you should take a moment to remind yourself why you take them, and what you could lose if you fail to take them correctly.
Conclusion: Making Mistakes is Easy, Doing it Right is Hard
To be sure, complying with COPD treatment is easier in theory than in action, but it's the best thing you can do to manage your COPD. If you do nothing else after your diagnosis, you should make every effort to follow the COPD treatment regimen your doctor prescribes.
The first step is making sure you fully understand all your medications and treatments, including exactly how and why you should use them. Then, it's up to you to take your medications properly every day while getting the dosage, timing, and all the other instructions right.
It's difficult enough to control a chronic disease like COPD, even if you do everything you're supposed to. But when you make mistakes like missing doses or skipping treatment steps, you put your health at even greater risk.
If you want to breathe better, feel stronger, and live a better quality of life, you have to make your COPD treatment a priority in spite of any obstacles you face. That means taking the time to learn how to to manage your disease correctly and being as accurate, careful, and consistent as you can be when taking your medications.