Managing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a condition in which a person has suffered long-term exposure to harmful substances, such as cigarette smoke, and cannot breathe easily. Air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust can also cause this disease. Common symptoms are shortness of breath, wheezing and a cough that produces a lot of mucus. See the NC Health Info page on COPD for more information.

There are several different kinds of medical providers that can treat or help you manage your COPD. These providers often work together as a team to help you develop a personalized COPD care plan.

You can use your health insurance plan’s directory to find a COPD care provider in your network. Or you can use the Physician Compare directory from to find a provider that accepts Medicare.

Primary Care Providers

A primary care provider (PCP) may be a family physician, nurse practitioner, internist, or physician’s assistant. Generally, you see a PCP for checkups, common health problems, and when you get sick. The PCP is usually the first health care professional you will see. Since COPD can be complicated, your PCP will put together a team of providers to help you with whatever COPD-related issues you may have. Your PCP will coordinate your care among these other specialists and team members. Your health insurance plan may require you to get the doctor’s referral for visits to the other health professionals on the team.

Family Physicians

A family physician, is a general practitioner with additional specialty training and expertise in dealing with patients of all ages. Family physicians may provide both preventive care (routine checkups) and diagnosis and treatment of a chronic illness, like COPD. Family physicians will coordinate your care with other subspecialists when needed. Some family physicians have special training in COPD. Use the American Board of Family Medicine to find a family physician.

Nurse Practitioners

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse with a master’s or doctoral degree and advanced clinical training. NPs can diagnose, develop a plan of care, and prescribe treatments and medications for your COPD. NPs teach patients self-management and maintain close communication between visits. Use the American Association of Nurse Practitioners directory to find a nurse practitioner. Be sure to accept the AANP’s Terms of Use before you hit “search”.

Physician’s Assistants

A physician’s assistant (PA) is a licensed and certified professional who provides a range of services under the direction and supervision of a doctor. PAs use effective screening and diagnostic procedures for pre-COPD and COPD. They can establish treatment goals for you, teach you about healthy lifestyles, and motivate you to take care of yourself. To find a PA who treats COPD, use the North Carolina Medical Board Licensee Search. Choose physician assistant as the License Type and Pulmonary Disease as the Area of Practice. Leave the other fields blank.



Other Providers


Allergists are medical practitioners specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and other allergy problems. They are trained to select tests that pinpoint the relevant allergen, which enables them to choose optimal therapies for individual patients. Use this directory from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology to locate an allergist by entering your zip code.


A pulmonologist is a specialist who has training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lung and respiratory illnesses. A pulmonologist is a physician with additional training in internal medicine and pulmonology. A pulmonologist can treat COPD and other breathing conditions, such as asthma, pneumonia, and emphysema. To find a pulmonologist near you, search this Finding Care (American Association for Respiratory Care). Select North Carolina from the drop-down menu.

Nutritionists/Dietetic Educators

Many people are surprised to learn that certain foods may affect their breathing. For example, a diet high in salt can cause the body to retain water, which may make it harder to breathe. To learn more about how nutrition can affect your COPD, visit this page by the American Lung Association. To locate a registered dietitian nutritionist, use this directory by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To find an expert that specifically accepts Medicare, use the Physicians Compare directory provided by Enter your zip code and select “Registered dietitian/Nutritional professional” from the drop-down menu.

Mental Health Care Providers

Living with a chronic medical condition such as COPD can sometimes affect your mental health. To locate a counselor to help manage the psychological stress of coping with COPD, use this directory by the Licensed Professional Counselors of North Carolina.



Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that examine whether a medical treatment or device is safe and effective for human beings. Many of the drugs and therapies available today are the result of clinical trials. To learn more, and to decide whether participating in a clinical trial is right for you, visit; a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Help and Support

There are many support groups, advocacy organizations, blogs, social media, and news sources online to help you cope with COPD. The COPD online community is made up of patients, caregivers, health care providers, and associations who offer support and share their knowledge with anyone touched by COPD. This page from the American Lung Association outlines a number of online support communities for people affected by COPD. To locate a Better Breathers Club for face-to-face support, use this directory from the American Lung Association.

Financial Assistance

COPD Supplies: Information about financial assistance with COPD supplies and related health care items and services can be found at the Medicine Assistance Tool (

Free and Discounted Services: There are a number of free and discounted services in North Carolina that you may qualify for, including free urgent care clinics and help with paying for your medications or health insurance. Check out our Free and Discounted Services page to learn more.

Need More Information?

Do you have a health related question? You are welcome to use the Health Sciences Library’s Ask a Librarian service.

Our librarians are happy to help you with questions such as “How is diabetes diagnosed?” or “What is heart disease?”. We can not answer questions about an individual’s medical case or care. Please contact your doctor for specific medical advice.



Page authored by UNC Health Sciences Library Staff.

Last updated February 14, 2024 at 5:01 pm