The goals of managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease include making the correct diagnosis, avoiding further risk (especially by smoking cessation), controlling symptoms (particularly dyspnea), and treating complications. Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can obtain substantial symptom relief from medications, including bronchodilators. Prescription of bronchodilators should be guided by the patient's degree of dyspnea, and response to initial therapy. In patients with severe disease and uncontrolled dyspnea, simultaneous use of multiple classes of bronchodilators provides additional benefit. Controlled investigations have found that patient adherence to prescribed therapies is less than optimal even in the best circumstances. Adherence barriers include factors related to the treatment, to the patient, and to the health care practitioner. Understanding these barriers and addressing patient adherence may improve outcomes. Health care practitioners need to develop an optimal working relationship with each patient and focus on their roles as educators and advocates for the patient's health. A collaborative self-management approach recognizes the patient's role in making his or her own health decisions and the physician's role as an educator and facilitator of the patient's health decisions. When multiple therapies are employed, a comprehensive management plan should be developed to help the patient understand and incorporate all the necessary treatments on an ongoing basis. Disease management programs may be useful in assisting health care practitioners and patients in managing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.