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Types of medicines

Types of medicines

There are four main categories or groups of medicines you may be prescribed (see diagram below).  You will notice that you might have medicines from more than one category depending on your situation:

  1. Reliever medicines – for quick relief of increasing symptoms of breathlessness.
  2. Maintenance medicines – for long term regular use to control your symptoms and to help prevent flare ups or exacerbations.
  3. Preventer medicines, including combination medicines – for long term regular use when COPD becomes more severe and you experience several flare ups.
  4. Flare up medicines – for short term use during an acute flare up of your COPD symptoms.


Categories of COPD Medicines

When you are initially diagnosed with COPD, your doctor may start you on a reliever medicine and then, if the severity of your disease progresses and your symptoms worsen or you experience more frequent flare ups, your doctor may prescribe additional medicines. Some patients find themselves on three different medicines, each with its own inhaler. This is normal, however, it is important that you understand the role of each of your medicines and to take them properly.


The majority of medicines for people who have COPD are listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and require prescriptions from a doctor. However, Ventolin® and Bricanyl® are available over the counter without a prescription, but will cost more if you buy them without a prescription.