Once you've been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it's important to talk to your healthcare team about medications you're already taking, as well as timing of prescriptions, pharmaceutical recommendations, and possible interactions.
In order to best manage your COPD symptoms, your doctor might recommend medication in an inhaler to relax the muscles around your airways, causing them to open so breathing is easier. A short-acting bronchodilator can be taken as needed, before activities, or in case of emergencies. Or, you might be prescribed a long-acting bronchodilator to use daily. Depending on your COPD symptoms, your physician may suggest you take inhaled steroids to help control exacerbations or a combination of steroids and the bronchodilator medications.
When you pick up your bronchodilator, inhaled steroid, or anyprescription medication at the pharmacy counter, make sure you ask the pharmacist how to assemble it, use it, and discuss best practices for your medications.
It can be tempting to bypass conversations with your pharmacist and say that 'I'm okay,' when a cashier rings you up and asks if you have any questions. But it's important to take a few extra minutes to request a demonstration of how to use the bronchodilator and chat with the pharmacist.
First, open the bag at the counter to make sure your prescription is what the doctor told you it would be as well as making sure you understand the dosage information.
Important questions to ask your pharmacist are:
- What are the common and not-so-common side effects of this medication?
Having this information will help you know whether any side effects you experience are normal, or if you need to address them with immediate attention. Inhaled steroids and bronchodilators may cause dry mouth, blurry vision, or cough. Some patients experience tremors and a fast heartbeat. If you have a heart condition, discuss that condition with your physician and have him/her factor that into the medications they prescribe.
- Will this impact other medications I'm taking?
If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, talk to the pharmacist about how to take them, and whether those can impact the effectiveness of other medications you may be taking, or if they can impact your health in other ways.
- When should I take this?
Short-acting bronchodilators work within 15 to 20 minutes to help decrease shortness of breath. If you follow an exercise routine or have specific situations that you know exacerbate your COPD, chat with the pharmacist about the best time to use your bronchodilator before that event. Ask them the best time of day to take your long-acting bronchodilator and/or steroid medication.
- Should I take this with food, on an empty stomach, or avoid certain foods or drinks while taking this medication?
Certain medications are recommended with food, others should be taken on an empty stomach, and some foods like grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with certain prescription drugs.
- How will this prescription impact the other medications or OTC products I take?
Have a list of all of the medications you're taking (and what they're for), as well as if you take a daily aspirin, allergy medicine, supplements, cold medicine, etc. Show this to your pharmacist to make sure there won't be harmful drug interactions and learn how to fit your new prescription into your existing daily regimen.
- Can I continue to take my daily vitamins and supplements on this medication?
- Will alcohol impact me on this medication?
- Can this medication impact my mental health and well-being? Is this available generically or cheaper?
You might find it helpful to take notes during the conversation with your pharmacist or record the conversation using your cell phone. This will help you remember the important details as well as share them with your caregiver.