Effect of Laser Therapy on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that impacts millions of Americans. Laser therapy is an emerging technology for the treatment of inflammation throughout the body, and it’s been tested for its effects on the treatment of COPD symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about how this non-invasive approach is being studied as a potential treatment for COPD.
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly called COPD, refers to a group of lung diseases that make breathing difficult and worsen over time. COPD conditions impact the airways and air sacs in the lungs, which are normally stretchy to accommodate the intake of air when we breathe. In patients with COPD, the tissues that comprise the airways and air sacs exhibit one or more of the following:
- Less elasticity
- Walls between air sacs have been destroyed
- Walls between air sacs are thickened or inflamed
- Airways make more mucus than normal, which can cause clogs
There are two main types of COPD: emphysema, which impacts air sacs, and chronic bronchitis, which impacts airways. People with COPD often exhibit both emphysema and bronchitis, but the severity of each varies from person to person.
COPD is a chronic disease that progresses over time. Many treatments are available to help ease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease, but there is no cure. Symptoms include:
- Frequent cough
- Cough that produces a lot of mucus
- Whistling or squeaking sound when breathing
- Shortness of breath, especially after physical activity
- Tight feeling in the chest
Risk Factors for COPD
People are more likely to develop COPD if:
- They smoke or have smoked
- They are regularly exposed to lung irritants, including second-hand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust
- They are over 40 years old
- They have a family history of COPD
Additionally, smokers with a family history of COPD are even more likely to develop the disease.
Many treatments for COPD include lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke or other lung irritants, and physician-approved diet and exercise programs. Additionally, there are some medications that can help relax airway muscles and reduce inflammation. More severe cases of COPD may require oxygen therapy or surgery to remove damaged lung tissue or even a lung transplant.
Laser Therapy for COPD
Laser therapy, also called photobiomodulation, is a drug-free therapy that utilizes specific wavelengths of red light to boost the natural healing processes in our bodies. Laser therapy is not a cure for COPD, but studies have shown it may help relieve symptoms. Studies performed both in vitro (experimentation performed outside a living organism) and in vivo (performed within a living organism) have shown the effect of laser therapy on damaged lung tissue.
Photobiomodulation therapy is commonly used to treat inflammation throughout the body, such as from acute injury or arthritic joint pain. It’s also been studied for its effects on the treatment and rehabilitation from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and stroke with promising outcomes. Photobiomodulation affects the mitochondria of the body’s cells, which boosts production and transport of cellular energy. This has a variety of effects on the body, including temporarily increased circulation (vasodilation) and reduced inflammation.
One study examined the short-term effect of laser therapy on patients with stable COPD. A total of 30 patients were included in the study and separated into control and laser therapy groups of 15. Of the 15 patients in the laser therapy group, all showed improvement in a six minute walk test following treatment. The test measured distance covered on a treadmill in six minutes where distance covered indirectly shows improved breathing and blood oxygenation. The average distance covered by the laser therapy group doubled from the start of the study (24 meters to 52 meters).
More studies are needed to confirm both short and long-term effects of laser therapy on COPD. However, this is a promising avenue of symptom relief for COPD. In addition to positive effects observed in study, laser therapy has minimal side effects. Additionally, high-powered class IV therapy lasers and advancements in therapeutic devices such as dual and tri-wavelength allow for more customized treatments to meet the unique needs of every patient.
Laser therapy is a growing field, and Aspen Laser is an emerging leader in photobiomodulation technology. See more of the amazing applications of laser therapy in our case study library on our educational site for providers, Aspen Laser University. With over 100 case studies and interactive filters, you can see how laser therapy impacts your field of practice and learn about more emerging applications, such as for COPD and TBI.