Customizing inhaled therapy to meet the needs of COPD patients

Postgrad Med. 2010 Mar;122(2):83-93. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2010.03.2125.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease characterized by airflow limitation resulting from emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Inhaled therapy is the major therapeutic approach for treating COPD. Multiple inhaler medications are available in the United States and are delivered by a variety of different devices: metered-dose inhalers, dry powdered inhalers, and nebulizers. Each inhaler device has unique requirements for use that must be correctly performed by the patient for successful drug delivery. Patients with COPD represent a medically diverse population, with each patient having distinct characteristics, such as lung function, comorbidities, cognitive functions, hand strength, and lifestyle. These characteristics impact the patient's ability to properly use specific inhaler devices and therefore affect adherence to therapy, therapeutic outcomes, and quality of life. It is estimated that between 28% to 68% of patients do not use metered-dose inhalers or dry powder inhalers correctly. Worsening symptoms or increased frequency of exacerbations may not always indicate disease progression but may indicate a patient's inability to use their inhaler device properly. This review discusses the patient- and device-specific factors to be considered when choosing an inhaled therapy, which will be concordant with the patient's medical needs, preferences, and lifestyle. The review also considers how the ideas underlying the patient-centered medical home model can be incorporated into the choice and use of inhaler device for a given patient with COPD to improve treatment outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Home Care Services
  • Humans
  • Metered Dose Inhalers
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Patient-Centered Care*
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • United States


  • Bronchodilator Agents