10 Common COPD Terms Explained

Health Professional
View as:|
1 of 10


Stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic means the disease is not curable and will slowly worsen over time. Obstructive means the airways become blocked due to the disease process. Pulmonary is a term that refers to your lungs and airways. COPD is usually caused by smoking, air pollution or an inherited alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.


One of the types of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD for short. In this condition, the walls of the tiny air sacs at the end of your smallest airways break down. Your airways also lose their elasticity. As a result, your airways have a hard time exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, making breathing more difficult.


The medical term for a flare-up, or worsening, of COPD symptoms. Flare-ups are common in people with COPD, especially when exposed to certain triggers, such as secondhand smoke, cold air, and respiratory infections. When this happens, additional treatment or even emergency care may be needed.


The medical term for shortness of breath. People who have COPD often have varying degrees of dyspnea, whether walking, bathing, eating or even just moving around in bed. Dsypnea can also occur when lying flat in bed. Putting one or two pillows under the head and shoulders can help relieve it.


People with COPD, especially in the later stages, are not able to get enough oxygen into their bodies just by breathing. They may need supplemental oxygen that they breathe in through a tube with nasal prongs. This oxygen is prescribed in a specific dosage and may be used only when active or continuously.


Tiny air sacs located at the very end of your smallest airways. They have very thin walls that enable, in a healthy person, exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide to take place. In emphysema, alveoli are destroyed or damaged, making it hard for the airways to work properly.

Dry Powder Inhaler

Also known as a DPI, this is a small, handheld device that enables you to inhale a powdered form of COPD medication. Unlike MDIs that use an aerosol propellant, DPIs use just the force of your lung inhalation to get the medicine into your airways. An example of this type of inhaler is Advair.


A portable electric machine powered by compressed air that converts liquid bronchodilator medicine into a fine mist that is then inhaled through a mask. This medicine relaxes your airways so you can breathe easier. Inhalers don’t always work well for people with COPD who don’t have a strong inhaling ability. A nebulizer can make sure you get the medicine deep into your airways.


Airway-opening medicine used for conditions such as COPD and asthma. This medicine relaxes the muscles in your airways to make air flow easier. It can also help to clear mucus from your airways. Bronchodilators come in both fast-acting and long-acting forms. They can be taken as a pill, in an inhaler or through a nebulizer.

Productive cough

A so-called wet cough common in people with COPD, where you cough up mucus. People with COPD also can have a dry cough, but a productive cough is common in the later stages. It can also indicate that you may have a respiratory infection going on.