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Common side effects of some COPD medicines

The leaflet that comes with your prescription will have more specific information than is given here and a full list of possible side effects so it’s important to read it before you start taking your medication.

Reliever inhalers

Beta-2-agonists can cause:1–3

Muscle shakes
Irregularities in heartbeat

They usually only last for a few minutes, but can sometimes last for a few hours.

Anti-muscarinics (short- and long-acting) can cause a dry mouth.3

This may wear off after the first few weeks of treatment. Sugar-free chewing gum or sweets can help.

Preventer inhalers

Inhalers with steroids in them can cause:3,4

  • Sore mouth
  • Hoarse voice
  • Oral thrush, which looks like a white coating, usually on your tongue

Rinsing your mouth out with water after taking your medication can help prevent thrush. If you get these side effects it could be a sign your inhaler technique needs checking – any medication that’s in your mouth causing problems isn’t in your lungs doing its job.

Oral medication

Different mucolytics can have different side effects. They are rare, but if they do happen they usually affect the digestive system, causing bleeding from the gut.5

Tell your doctor or nurse if you get any of these, or other side effects from your medication, or aren’t sure how to spot them.

Oxygen alert cards

There’s one type of COPD that’s made worse with too much oxygen — rather than relieving breathlessness it causes drowsiness, which can be dangerous. If you have this type of COPD you will be given an oxygen alert card.6

It’s important to keep it with you at all times, so if you need emergency care you can hand it to the medics treating you.

Approval code: RESP-IE-NP-00024 

Date of preparation: November 2020

  1. 1. American Thoracic Society. Medicines used to treat COPD. Available at: patient-resources/resources/copd-exacerbation-ecopd.pdf. Last accessed: November 2020.
  2. Reliever Inhalers. Asthma UK. Available at: Last accessed: November 2020.
  3. HSE. Bronchodilator medicines. Available at: Last accessed: November 2020.
  4. British Lung Foundation. COPD: Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Available at: Last accessed: November 2020.
  5. Patient. Mucolytics. Available at: et/mucolytics#nav-4. Last accessed: November 2020.
  6. Oxygen alert card. MyLungsMyLife. Available at: Last accessed: November 2020.

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