What are the Different Types of Respiratory Treatment?

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  • Written By: Dorothy Distefano
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2020
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Respiratory treatment is dependent upon the type of medical condition being treated. Treatments range from oral medications to mechanical assistance. After evaluation and diagnosis by a medical professional, an appropriate treatment regime may be prescribed.

A respiratory illness may be as simple as a common cold virus, or as complex as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A common cold is caused by a virus and treatment is generally aimed at easing symptoms. Antihistamines, decongestants, and humidifiers are frequently used by cold sufferers.

When the bronchial tubes of the lungs are inflamed and constricted, asthma is the result. Respiratory treatment of asthma is geared toward controlling symptoms, as the condition cannot be cured. Long term corticosteroid inhalers and bronchodilators, as well as leukotriene modifiers are among the usual therapies. Fast-acting inhalers may be used to help relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack.

Bronchitis, an inflammation of the main airways into the lungs, is usually characterized by harsh coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Antibiotics may be used to fight bacteria, while corticosteroids may be necessary to decrease inflammation. Over-the-counter cough suppressants and a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer may also help ease symptoms.


Emphysema is a condition in which the tiny air sacs at the ends of the bronchioles are progressively damaged. The foremost cause of emphysema is smoking. Treatment may include antibiotics, steroids, and even surgery to remove damaged lung tissue. If all types of respiratory treatment fail, lung transplant may be needed.

COPD is an illness that has symptoms of both bronchitis and emphysema. Damage to lung tissue is irreversible and can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. Respiratory treatment for COPD is generally focused on reducing complications and lessening symptoms. Bronchodilators, steroid inhalers, antibiotics, and surgery may be needed. Other treatments may include oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Oxygen therapy refers to the use of an oxygen tank to deliver additional oxygen into the lungs via tubing and nasal cannula or a mask. It may be prescribed during sleeping hours, waking hours, or at all times. Using supplemental oxygen can help improve physical capabilities, mental alertness, and basic quality of life in a patient who has low blood oxygen levels.

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs usually incorporate education, exercises, and counseling to help a patient actively participate in improving lung function. A respiratory therapist or physician may provide information and a treatment plan. By following the prescribed program, a patient may shorten his hospital stays or decrease flare-ups.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing is interrupted when the throat relaxes during sleep. Respiratory treatment for this condition may include the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which delivers pressurized air through a mask to keep airways open. Adjustable airway pressure devices — which automatically adjust pressure throughout the night — or oral appliances to keep the throat open, may also be prescribed.


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