COPD – Patient Information

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a term used for conditions including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD leads to long term damage of the airways in the lungs, causing them to become narrower and making it more difficult for air to get in and out.

Each lung is made up of tubes called Bronchi which branch into smaller airways known as Bronchioles. At the end of these smaller airways are tiny air sacs (Alveoli) which, on inhalation, expand and inflate. They work to transfer inhaled oxygen into the blood stream and remove waste gases through exhalation.


In Emphysema the tissue that surrounds the smaller airways is damaged and air is trapped in the alveoli. These air sacs become overstretched and unable to function correctly causing shortness of breath.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways which deliver air to the lungs. This can lead to an increase in mucus production and consequent narrowing of the bronchi.

Typical COPD symptoms are:

  • Breathlessness
  • A persistent and productive cough
  • Recurring chest infections
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness of the chest.

What causes COPD?

The most common cause of COPD is smoking and sufferers of the disease are therefore encouraged to stop smoking in an effort to reduce further damage. Inherited problems and occupational factors such as exposure to dust and chemicals can also act as causes of the disease.

How is COPD diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed by assessing a patient’s lung function. Spirometry is used in the diagnosis of COPD and measures the maximum volume of air a person is capable of breathing out in one breath.

Primarily spirometry assists in determining the severity of the disease and the results may lead to the patient being referred for further lung function testing or X-ray.

What treatment is available?

COPD cannot be cured but there are a variety of treatments available to make the disease more manageable. Available COPD treatment includes pulmonary rehabilitation, bronchodilator medication, nebulizers and, in more advanced cases, Long Term Oxygen Therapy (LTOT). Smoking cessation is also actively encouraged as this will help to improve the symptoms of COPD.

Shortness of breath can make daily activities more difficult for sufferers of COPD, however remaining active is an important part of managing the condition. Pulmonary rehabilitation is carried out by professional respiratory physiotherapists or nurses, promotes exercise and helps sufferers to better manage their symptoms. Whilst it is not possible to reverse lung damage, pulmonary rehabilitation can benefit general fitness and the ability to cope better with periods of breathlessness.

COPD sufferers are also often prescribed bronchodilator medicines, which act to relax the bronchial muscles and open up the airways making it easier to breathe. A nebuliser is a device which transforms liquid medication into a fine mist for the patient to inhale via a mouthpiece or mask. A nebuliser may be recommended for administering bronchodilator drugs as the medication is deposited deep into the lungs where needed.

Long Term Oxygen Therapy (LTOT) is used for patients in the more advanced stages of the disease who suffer with low oxygen levels in the blood. In adults the use of oxygen is usually recommended for at least 15 hours per day and it is common for patients to use oxygen overnight and for several hours during the day.

The most common modes of LTOT are an oxygen concentrator, a liquid oxygen reservoir or large cylinders (although these are becoming rarer).  For patients that require oxygen when exercising or when away from home there are ambulatory or portable oxygen systems available including portable oxygen concentrators, portable liquid systems and portable cylinders with oxygen conserving devices.

  • What is pulmonary rehabilitation and why is it important?
    Pulmonary rehabilitation is a very important part of learning to live with and manage the symptoms of COPD. The right combination of medication, treatment and exercise, professional support and advice can allow COPD sufferers to manage the disease and carry on with their normal daily lives.
  • I use a nebuliser to take bronchodilator drugs. Am I able to travel abroad with my device?
    Always check the voltage requirements for your device against that of the country you are travelling to. Voltage converters can be purchased from electrical or hardware stores for use when travelling abroad.
  • I suffer from COPD and intend on travelling abroad. Can I travel abroad and still receive oxygen?
    Yes, this is absolutely possible. A portable oxygen concentrator acts in the same way as a standard stationary oxygen concentrator but is smaller and more compact for travelling and ease of portability. The DeVilbiss iGo portable oxygen concentrator has an internal, rechargeable battery for travelling and is FAA approved for use onboard an aircraft.
  • How does an oxygen concentrator work?
    An oxygen concentrator is an electrical device that draws in room air, separates the oxygen from the other gases and delivers the oxygen at high concentrations to the patient. Room air is drawn in via a small electric compressor through a series of filters. The compressed air passes through two molecular sieve beds, which removes the nitrogen. Waste gas is harmlessly returned to the air and the process repeated. The oxygen is then delivered to the patient via a nasal canula or face mask. An uninterrupted supply of oxygen is available at the touch of a button and can be used 24 hours a day.
  • What is the best way to transport an oxygen concentrator in the car?
    It is not recommended to put the DeVilbiss 525 oxygen concentrator in the boot of a car as this involves tipping the unit. The best place is on a back seat secured with the seat belt or wedged between the front and back seats.
  • Can I also use a portable oxygen concentrator in the home?
    Yes, portable oxygen concentrators can also be operated from a mains power source.
  • What are the advantages of home filling stations?
    People who require oxygen throughout the day and use a stationary, continuous flow system such as an oxygen concentrator may find that their daily life becomes somewhat restricted. With a home filling station such as the DeVilbiss iFill, oxygen cylinders can be filled at home and used whenever and wherever they are needed.
  • What are the advantages of an oxygen conserving device?
    An oxygen conserving device only delivers oxygen when it is needed, ie. on inhalation, whereas continuous flow systems deliver oxygen all the time. Oxygen cylinders fitted with a conserving device can be used for a longer period of time before they need re-filling.
  • Am I receiving the right amount of oxygen by using an oxygen conserving device?
    Yes. Systems such as the DeVilbiss PulseDose conserving device deliver a precise burst of oxygen at a relatively high flow rate at the leading edge of each inhalation. This assures that the oxygen delivered flows deep into the lungs for maximum benefit. PulseDose requires less oxygen to deliver the same therapeutic benefit as continuous flow oxygen.