Is COPD Reversible?

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDJune 25th, 2021
older male trouble breathing outside

Is COPD Reversible?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. As both COPD and asthma are obstructive lung diseases marked by shortness of breath, they are often compared to each other. Because asthma is by definition reversible, many people wonder if this is also true for COPD. Unfortunately, this is not the case; with COPD, the airflow obstruction is either irreversible or only partly reversible.

Understanding COPD

COPD causes damage to the lungs and restricts their ability to obtain oxygen, making it hard to breathe. It typically culminates from other conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Over 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD and evidence suggests that an additional estimated 15 million have COPD but remain undiagnosed.


COPD is usually caused by long-term exposure to irritants that damage the lungs and airways, the most notable example being smoking. In fact, about 80-90% of all COPD cases are the result of cigarette smoking. However, other factors can contribute to the development of COPD, such as:

  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Breathing in secondhand smoke
  • Working with certain chemicals, dust, and fumes
  • A genetic condition called Alpha-1 deficiency
  • A history of childhood respiratory infection


Many people who have COPD may not realize it or aren’t properly diagnosed until the disease has advanced. In order to accurately diagnose COPD, your doctor can review your symptoms, discuss your medical history, and order several tests such as a lung function test, chest X-ray, CT scan, and arterial blood gas analysis.

Why COPD Is Irreversible

COPD is classified as a progressive disorder, which is a disease or health condition that gets worse over time, resulting in a general decline in health or function. This means that COPD will worsen over time regardless of treatment. Some treatments can slow the disease’s progression but ultimately, none can completely reverse it.

How to Manage COPD Exacerbations

You may not be able to reverse the effects of COPD, but some treatments can ease symptoms and prevent exacerbations. If you smoke, the most essential step for COPD treatment is to quit. Other lifestyle changes can help you like exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, avoiding secondhand smoke and air pollutants, taking prescribed medications, and practicing breathing techniques.

DispatchHealth Helps With COPD Care

Even with ongoing treatment, you may experience times when symptoms become worse for days or weeks. These are called acute exacerbations, and they can certainly make it difficult to leave your home and seek out treatment from your doctor or an urgent care clinic. In these situations, you can lean on DispatchHealth to help manage your COPD exacerbations in the comfort of your own home. [availability_widget] Only a few hours after contacting us, you can expect DispatchHealth to show up at your door ready to help you ease COPD symptoms and treat a flare-up. It’s easy to reach out as we can be contacted via phone, through our website, or on our easy-to-use mobile app. For life-threatening and time-sensitive injuries and illnesses, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. DispatchHealth shouldn’t be used in a life-threatening emergency and doesn’t replace a primary care provider.

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DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies. Sources referenced in this article:

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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