Uses, Benefits, Risks & More

Codeine is an opioid medication that doctors can use to treat pain and cough. It’s a powerful drug, and people can quickly develop a tolerance or addiction.

Although there is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Opioids – like codeine – can be helpful in relieving some symptoms, but doctors don’t prescribe them frequently because of the risks.

There are also many side effects associated with codeine, including drowsiness, constipation, and difficulty breathing.

Keep reading to find out why doctors prescribe codeine for COPD, the risks and benefits, and other treatment options for people with this condition.

Codeine is an opioid medication that doctors use to treat mild to moderate pain. They can use it off-label in combination with other medicines to relieve cough, a main symptom of COPD. It helps reduce this by decreasing activity in the part of the brain that causes the cough.

Generally, codeine does not appear on treatment lists for COPD. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) guidelines, for example, do not list codeine as a treatment for COPD.

However, some doctors may prescribe codeine for people who have particularly severe bouts of coughing and shortness of breath.

Various Clinical studies studied the effectiveness of opioids for shortness of breath in COPD. Overall, research suggests that low-dose opioids slightly improve chronic shortness of breath.

However, most studies to date are small and of low quality. There is little convincing evidence to support the use of codeine in COPD treatment regimens.

As with all medicines, codeine can cause side effects. These may include:

In some cases, codeine can cause serious, life-threatening breathing problems, especially during the first 24 to 72 hours of treatment.

It can also cause other serious side effects that require immediate medical attention, including:

  • hustle
  • hallucinations
  • fever and sweating
  • confusion
  • racing heartbeat
  • chills
  • severe muscle stiffness or muscle twitching
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation
  • weakness or dizziness
  • rashes and itching
  • vision changes
  • seizures

Another major concern with codeine is that it can be addictive and in some cases addictive.

People who take codeine for a long time can develop a tolerance to it, which means they need larger and larger doses to get the same effect. They can also experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop taking the drug.

Because of these risks, doctors rarely prescribe opioids for shortness of breath in people with advanced COPD.

Despite the risks, codeine may offer some benefits for people with COPD. In particular, it can relieve shortness of breath and help relieve pain associated with chronic lung disease.

If a doctor prescribes codeine, the person must take it exactly as prescribed. They should not take more or less than the prescribed amount, and they should not take it for longer than the doctor advises.

COPD treatment aims to control symptoms, improve quality of life, and reduce the likelihood of exacerbations or flare-ups.

Commonly prescribed medications to understand:

  • Bronchodilators: These are often the first-line treatment for COPD. They open the airways to make breathing easier.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids: These drugs can reduce airway inflammation.
  • Antibiotics: If a person has a bacterial infection, they can take antibiotics.

Pain in COPD is a significant concern, affecting up to 60% of people with the disease.

Doctors may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin. If these don’t work, they may prescribe opioids, such as morphine and codeine.

Some research says the medical community should consider opioids — such as extended-release morphine — as first-line treatment for shortness of breath in COPD. The authors suggest that doctors prescribe a low dose and gradually increase it over time, depending on how the person reacts.

Despite concerns about the side effects of opioids, studies show that low-dose opioids may not have harmful effects. The evidence does not link them to increased rates of hospitalization or death in people with severe COPD. However, tolerance and addiction are the main concerns.

People should work with a doctor to find the best COPD treatment plan for them. The doctor may suggest medications to relieve the person’s symptoms and lifestyle adjustments to help maintain their overall health and well-being.

Since COPD is a progressive and incurable disease, treatment focuses on managing pain, treating other symptoms, and slowing the progression of the disease.

It is also very important to have regular check-ups with a doctor to ensure the prompt detection and treatment of any changes in a person’s condition.

Codeine is an opioid medication that can help relieve pain and shortness of breath in people with COPD. Some research also suggests that other opioids, such as morphine, can effectively treat these symptoms.

However, opioids have associated risks, including dependence, addiction, and significant side effects. Therefore, if a doctor recommends these powerful drugs, a person should follow the dosage instructions carefully. If a person has concerns about the medications they are taking, they should contact a doctor.