Insights from Stephanie Berman, MSN, RN, CALM

care facility nurse helping woman with her nebulizer

Common Medications for Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory conditions are prevalent in the United States. With the medical industry ever-evolving, it is important to know the types of diseases and treatments residents may have. Providing the best care starts by understanding the diagnosis of residents.

The American Lung Association reports that 34 million Americans live with some type of lung disease. Lung disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Common Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory conditions are common in all ages but age 65 and up are more susceptible to severe condition progression. Education on these conditions can prepare care teams to provide the best care for residents.

  • Asthma – Asthma is inflammation in the airways. This can manifest as shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – The term encompasses several respiratory conditions that cause shortness of breath or difficulty exhaling. Smoking is typically associated with this disease and the American Lung Association lists COPD as the third leading cause of death in America.
  • Bronchitis – Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes. Inflammation in the major airways leading to the lungs causes shortness of breath. Bronchitis can be acute, meaning it is a sudden onset and is not continuous, and chronic, meaning it is a developmental disease and symptoms continue. 
  • Emphysema – This condition is the gradual damage of lung tissue. The tiny air sacks in the lungs rupture causing one big air sac. Air gets trapped in the tissue and prevents oxygen from moving through the bloodstream and can cause difficulty with breathing. Smoking is considered the number one cause of Emphysema. 
  • Cystic Fibrosis – CF causes a build-up of mucus in the lungs. It is an inherited disease that causes secretion from cells to build up mucus making it difficult for air to pass through the lungs, making the affected person more susceptible to frequent infections.
  • Pneumonia – Pneumonia is a common lung infection caused by germs. It is typical for it to be a complication of the flu. Lungs will fill with fluid and make it difficult to breathe. There is a cough often associated with pneumonia where this fluid slowly breaks up leading to a “crunchy” sound.

Medication typically prescribed to patients diagnosed with cardiac conditions

  • Bronchodilators – This medication aims to open and relax the airway. There are two types: short-acting beta-agonists and long-acting agonists. Short-acting causes immediate relief for symptoms. Inhalers with medication such as albuterol are a common example. Long-acting provides longer relief and will open the airways for up to 12 hours.
  • Antibiotics – Antibiotics can be administered to treat bacterial infections. These are often provided intravenously through an IV.
  • Corticosteroids – These are steroid types designed to reduce swelling in the airways. The medication closely resembles cortisol, the hormone released from the adrenal glands, and is labeled as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Mucolutics – Mucolutis break up and loosen mucus build-up caused by several respiratory conditions. By breaking up the mucus, it makes it easier for the person to expel the mucus, typically by coughing.
  • Epinephrine – This is typically given in emergency situations such as a severe asthma attack or an allergic reaction involving the tightening of the chest which restricts breathing. 
  • Supplemental Oxygen – Supplemental Oxygen is used to provide oxygen to the bloodstream. When a person struggles to inhale and exhale fully, oxygen is provided to ensure an appropriate amount reaches the body. It is an aid to the respiratory system.
Equipping your care team with the knowledge and skills is the cornerstone of safer care. Our free monthly training session, held on the first Tuesday of every month, provides your team with the tools and confidence to help optimize resident well-being within your community.
Each session covers critical topics like medication, compliance, safety, and best practices—while empowering your team to ask questions and solve problems.
Don’t miss this opportunity to help support your residents’ safety and equip your care team with the knowledge and confidence to provide exceptional care. Sign up for our next training or call (512) 923-1045 to learn about our medication management program today!


  1. Association, A. L. (n.d.). Research Institute. Research & Reports | American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/research


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