The official blog of the Lung Institute.
For those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), each breath of oxygen can be a challenge. A healthy adult at rest takes in about 12 to 16 breaths per minute, and that adds up to 960 breaths an hour, for a total of 23,040 breaths a day. That’s a lot of breathing for someone constantly short-of-breath, trying to get enough oxygen in their lungs.
That’s why we, at the Lung Institute, are always trying to find ways for chronic lung disease patients to improve their quality of life around their home. With your health in mind, let’s look at being very short-of breath with COPD and how to breathe easier.
What is COPD?
COPD is a progressive lung disease divided in to four categories – stages – ranging from mild to very severe and is known for restricting airflow in and out of the lungs which makes breathing difficult. COPD is identified by a pulmonary function test (PFT) and a combination of the GOLD System and the BODE Index, which both measure COPD severity. The GOLD System uses the forced expiratory volume test (FEV1), which helps to place people in different COPD stages.
- Stage 1: Very mild COPD — FEV1 at 80 percent or more of normal.
- Stage 2: Moderate COPD — FEV1 between 50 and 80 percent of normal.
- Stage 3: Severe COPD — FEV1 between 30 and 50 percent of normal.
- Stage 4: Very severe COPD — FEV1 lower than Stage 3, or encompassing those with Stage 3 FEV1 and low blood oxygen levels
Short-of-Breath Breathing Exercises
There are several breathing exercises ranging from beginner to advanced. Below is a selection of different breathing exercises for you to try to help you when you feel short-of-breath.
Pursed Lips Breathing:
An easy technique for people with COPD looking to control their breathing. This technique is most effective when breathing is labored or under stress. Pursed lips breathing is great for people short-of-breath because it helps release trapped air in the lungs, keeps airways open longer, promotes relaxation and more. Below are the step-by-step instructions for pursed lips breathing for people short-of-breath.
- Relax your neck and shoulders.
- Inhale slowly through the nostrils for two seconds – with the mouth closed.
- Exhale through the mouth for four seconds. When exhaling, pucker your lips like you’re giving a kiss.
- Breathe out with a slow, steady pace.
This technique is great for people looking to strengthen their diaphragm, the most efficient muscle of breathing. When COPD patients use their diaphragm correctly to breathe, it can decrease the effort used to breathe by slowing the breathing rate and decreasing the amount of oxygen needed to breathe. Below are the step-by-step instructions on how to properly use the diaphragmatic breathing technique.
- Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent and your head supported with a pillow.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below the rib cage on your belly.
- Breathe slowly through your nose and keep your hand on your upper chest as still as possible.
- Tighten your stomach muscles inward as you exhale through pursed lips. Continue to keep the hand on your upper chest as still as possible.
When beginning this exercise, practice for 5 to 10 minutes, three to four times a day. Over time, your muscles will get stronger, making it easier to get over being short-of-breath.
For those looking for more advanced breathing exercises, yoga can be a great way to increase flexibility, strengthen muscles, promote relaxation and create deeper breathing. The use of a chair can help people with chronic lung diseases practice gentle yoga techniques. For more information on chair yoga techniques, see our overview of some common poses here.
Treatment Alternatives for Being Short-of-Breath
In combination with diet and exercises, breathing exercises can be great towards living a lung-healthy lifestyle for chronic lung disease patients. But sometimes, lifestyle modification isn’t enough. Some lung disease patients have looked for treatment alternatives to help prevent symptom flare-ups.
One alternative showing promise is stem cell therapy. Here, at the Lung Institute, we use autologous stem cells from the patients’ own body, which may improve quality of life. If you or someone you know is battling COPD or other chronic lung disease such as pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease, it may be time to consider the Lung Institute. For more information on stem cell therapy, please contact us or call (800) 729-3065.