More about COPD

What is COPD?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a long-term condition that affects the lungs and slowly gets worse. When you breathe, air travels through tubes in your lungs, called airways, to millions of tiny air sacs. In a healthy lung, the airways are open and the air sacs fill up with air. Then the air goes quickly out. COPD makes it hard to get air through the airways and into and out of the air sacs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, chest discomfort and coughing up mucus.5,17

What is a flare-up?

Flare-ups are sometimes called exacerbations by doctors and happen when your usual COPD respiratory symptoms become much worse than usual. When they happen, flare-ups are sudden and may last a few days or weeks. Flare-ups generally happen more frequently in people with severe COPD.17

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

Common signs and symptoms of COPD include coughing that may produce mucus, shortness of breath, and fatigue. As the disease progresses, these COPD symptoms may become more frequent.5,8,17


A COPD Glossary

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Anticholinergics are medications for COPD that work to relax the airway muscles.17


Beta2-agonists are medicines used for COPD that work to relax the airway muscles. These are available as rescue relievers and long-acting controllers.17


Bronchodilators are medicines used for relaxing muscles around the lungs' airways allowing the airways to open up and expand. These include anticholinergics and beta2-agonists.17

Nasal Cannula

Plastic tubing used to supply oxygen through the nose.17


Corticosteroids are used in COPD to reduce inflammation in the airways and help reduce or prevent flare-ups. They can be taken orally or inhaled.17 They are sometimes simply called steroids.


Shortness of breath. Difficult or laboured breathing.17


ICS stands for 'inhaled corticosteroid'. Inhaled corticosteroids work to reduce airway inflammation and help prevent exacerbations. These medications are useful for people with frequent exacerbations of COPD. Examples of medicines that include an ICS in New Zealand include Seretide® and Breo® Ellipta®.14,15


Rapid breathing often caused by being nervous or panicked.17


Too little oxygen in the body.17


A portable device to take inhaled medicine in a couple of breaths.17


LAMA stands for 'long-acting muscarinic antagonist'. It's a type of bronchodilator used in COPD to help open the airways and make it easier for air to get in and out of the lungs. Examples of medicines that contain a LAMA in New Zealand include Anoro® Ellipta®1 and Incruse Ellipta.3


LABA stands for 'long-acting beta2-agonist'. LABA is a type of bronchodilator used in COPD to help open the airways and make it easier for air to get in and out of the lungs, which will help relieve the symptoms of COPD. Anoro® Ellipta® is an example of a medicine in New Zealand that contains a LABA.1

Liquid Oxygen (LOX)

This is oxygen condensed into a liquid state by extreme cold. A small amount of liquid oxygen can produce a very large amount of oxygen gas.17


This is a device that delivers medicines in a fine spray or mist. It requires no special coordination. It is a good method for getting drugs directly into the lungs.18

Oxygen Concentrator

A machine used for oxygen therapy. It has a pump that takes oxygen from the air, and moves it through a long narrow tube into the nose. It concentrates the amount of oxygen taken from the air. There are now portable oxygen concentrators available.17

Oxygen Therapy

A medically prescribed system of providing supplemental oxygen to the body. It is prescribed when diseased lungs are not able to meet the body's oxygen needs.9,17

Pulmonary function test

Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are a group of tests that measure how well your lungs work. This includes how well you're able to breathe and how effective your lungs are able to bring oxygen to the rest of your body.5

Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR)

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a medically supervised programme that uses exercises, including special breathing exercises, to help you be more active with less shortness of breath. It can be a helpful way to try to minimise the impact of COPD on your life.8,9

Pulse oximetry

This test measures how much oxygen is in your blood. The test is easy, and the result is a percentage. The doctor will put a sensor on your finger or ear and a light will be used to measure the oxygen content in your blood. The result of this test may show if you need oxygen therapy.17

Rescue inhalers

Short-acting rescue inhalers are sometimes called quick-relief inhalers. They help open the airways in the lungs when symptoms suddenly get worse. It's important to always carry your rescue inhaler with you in case your symptoms get worse.17


Spirometry measures the amount and/or the speed of air that can be inhaled and exhaled. When used in medicine, spirometry helps to diagnose lung diseases. Spirometry is part of a Pulmonary Function Test.17


Mucus, usually loose in the lungs. It may be coughed up.17