A woman with two heads takes medication. The one on the left is smiling while the one on the right is frowning.

Tolerable and Intolerable Medication Side Effects

Last updated: January 2023

As with many in the COPD community, I take many medications to help me breathe easier and live longer. Most of these medications have some side effects.

Some are mild, although some are intolerable. Listed here are some side effects I would tolerate and others I’m not willing to tolerate.

Tolerable medication side effects

Tremors

This is when you feel your hands quiver or shake. This is a side effect of beta-agonists, such as rescue inhalers.

Due to my daily use of Symbicort and Albuterol, I have a chronic tremor that I am willing to tolerate. Sure, it’s annoying sometimes.

It’s annoying when people say things like, “Are you going through detox?” No, I’m not going through detox. The reason I’m shaking like this is because I want to breathe.

I often require systemic steroids like prednisone when I have a severe asthma episode. When I’m on this medicine, my tremors increase.

This is when I’m most likely to get the detox comments. But I’m willing to tolerate all of this because they all do something good for me.

Nervousness

Like tremors, pretty much all asthma medications seem to make me nervous. I am always on edge.

I have been dealing with this side effect for so long that I have learned techniques to help me deal with it. Still, it’s annoying.

But, I am willing to tolerate this side effect because the medicines that cause it also help me breathe better than I would if I did not take them.

Increased appetite

Sometimes my breathing gets really bad. When this happens, I need systemic steroids or prednisone.

When I take this medicine, I get an appetite that cannot be satiated regardless of how much food I eat. Steroids make me crave foods like hamburgers and french fries.

I can eat my french fries, and then, if you still have some on your plate, I might say, “Are you going to eat those?” That’s what steroids do to me, but I have learned to control this side effect.

I know I will crave burgers and fries on this medicine. So, I have learned to deal with the starvation feeling and resist the urge to eat unhealthy foods. I have learned to eat healthy foods when on steroids.

So, this is a side effect I am willing to tolerate for the short periods of time I need steroids. The reason is that steroids are only needed short term, and they do make my breathing easier.

Intolerable medication side effects

Fatigue

I took a blood pressure once, which made me utterly fatigued. I tolerated it for a while because it helped control my blood pressure. But, after a while, I decided I could not tolerate this and function at work.

So I told my doctor about this side effect, and he recommended an alternative blood pressure medication for me to try.

Depression

Some medicines may potentially cause depression or sadness. Thankfully none of the medicines I take for my breathing cause this.

However, one of the medications I took for my blood pressure made me feel depressed. I decided I could not live that way.

So, I talked to my doctor, who put me on a different medicine to control my blood pressure. I decided, regardless of the benefits of this medicine, I could not tolerate feeling sad. I will never tolerate any medicine that causes me to feel this way.

I understand that taking medications come with risks. I am willing to tolerate some mild side effects, such as tremors and nervousness.

I am willing to tolerate these so long as the medication benefits me by helping me breathe easier every day. But, regardless of the benefits, I would not tolerate any medication that makes me fatigued or depressed.

What about you? What is one side effect from your COPD medication that you hate having but you would tolerate if it guaranteed to breathe easy every day or guaranteed that you would live another 20 years?

Please let us know in the comments below.

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