We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly known as COPD, is a progressive disease that affects one’s quality of life. Perhaps the most serious and life-threatening symptom of it is shortness of breath. This is distressing and potentially dangerous because there is decreased airflow into and out of the airways. Fortunately, practicing breathing exercises is among the most invaluable treatments for managing this COPD symptom.
Breathing exercises for COPD help1 you build up your breathing muscles, increase your oxygen intake, and breathe more easily. Breathing exercises work in the following ways:
This article will describe certain common breathing exercises that can be used to control coughing and are especially beneficial for persons with COPD. The COPD exercise plan your healthcare practitioner has recommended for you should determine how much attention you give to each type.
Deep breathing is a technique that requires you to relax your abdominal region while you take a deep breath. When you inhale deeply, your lungs are completely filled with air, and your lower belly expands.
Studies show that2 deep, slow, relaxed breathing increases pain tolerance by reducing the activity of your sympathetic nervous system (the one that controls your fight-or-flight response). Consequently, it may be helpful in managing chronic pain as well as calming you down.
To practice deep breathing:
Pursed lip breathing allows you to breathe and keep your airways open for a longer period of time. The controlled way the air enters and exits your lungs means you can exercise more before getting out of breath because your lungs can accommodate more airflow.
In other words, this exercise aids in slowing breathing, which allows for more air into and out of the lungs, rather than panting or gasping, which only allow a small amount of air into and out of the lungs at a time.
Pursed lip breathing4 can effectively relieve shortness of breath, decrease breathing frequency, increase how long you can breathe out for (important for getting all of the CO2 out), reduce how much air is left in your lungs after you breathe out, and increase exercise capacity5 (such as how far you can walk).
To practice this technique:
Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breathing technique that helps strengthen the diaphragm. It is sometimes called breath control, belly breathing, or abdominal breathing.
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle located just below your chest, close to the bottom of your ribcage. The diaphragm and other respiratory muscles surrounding your lungs contract and relax during air inhalation and exhalation. When you inhale, the diaphragm performs a substantial role – it contracts as you inhale, to become flattened rather than dome-shaped; this allow your lungs to expand into the extra room and take in more air. If your diaphragm didn’t move, your lungs would only be able to expand sideways, where they would be restricted by the ribs.
Evidence suggests that diaphragmatic breathing may reduce stress,7 as measured by physiological biomarkers, like the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in people’s saliva, and psychological self-report metrics.
The COPD foundation8 recommends sitting or lying down when you use this approach for the first time when you are feeling rested and at ease.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing:
Coughing that is controlled has precisely the right amount of force to break up and move mucus through the airways without making them constrict and close. This helps conserves energy for those who cough a lot due to COPD.
To effectively cough with control:
The best way to practice controlled coughing is to carefully go over the instructions in the office with your doctor first, then practice them at home. This approach can be very helpful for people with COPD when used carefully since it helps to maintain energy and reserve oxygen.
Have you ever noticed that when you're doing some activities, such as when you're moving a heavy box, you tend to hold your breath? Your regular breathing pattern is disrupted when you hold your breath, which prevents the portions of your body that require oxygen from receiving enough of it. Consequently, you become more exhausted and out of breath.
Coordinated breathing helps to ensure that your working muscles receive enough oxygen and keeps you from holding your breath most especially during activity or exercise. It builds upon the pursed lip breathing explained above.
The key points of coordinated breathing are:
Keep this pattern in your mind and consciously hold to it; by maintaining steady breathing throughout activities you can ensure your muscles get enough oxygen and you won’t be out of breath.
Huff coughing is a gentle way of coughing that assists in clearing mucus from the lungs.
To practice a huff cough:
Puffing moves the phlegm can be moved closer to the center of the lungs and it can then be expelled with a strong cough.
Alternatively, you could attempt puffing to expel the mucus from various lung regions, depending on where it is lodged.
Yoga stretches and deep breathing can help in relaxation,9 agility, and mind-body wellness.
Breathing is an important part of yoga. Yoga practitioners use the Sanskrit term “pranayama”– it is frequently translated as “breath control.” These techniques are often taught to people with COPD as part of their pulmonary rehabilitation10 program.
According to a 2014 study,11 practicing yoga for three to nine months may assist people with COPD to improve their capacity to exercise and lung function. Additionally, a 2019 review of multiple studies12 concluded that yoga can be an effective long-term intervention for patients with COPD; however, its safety needs to be assessed in more depth by future studies.
Because there is a need for further research to determine the safety, long-term impacts, and implications on the quality of life of yoga if you have COPD, it is recommended that you discuss its safety and suitability with a doctor before enrolling in a class.
To sum up, having COPD makes it harder to breathe. And when it’s hard to breathe, it’s normal to get anxious. So, take a few slow, deep breaths in and out between attempts if you experience any wooziness or lightheadedness when using these methods.
While these breathing exercises can help you manage your cough symptoms associated with COPD, tracking each and every cough is also vital. This is because COPD can be exacerbated by infection, being around someone who is smoking, or pollutants. In these incidents, you may suddenly feel short of breath or your cough may get worse.
Marion is a freelance health and wellness writer with a passion for all things digital health. She loves diving deep into the latest research and trends in the industry and distilling them down into fun, relatable pieces that people can relate to. Whether you're a health nut or a tech geek, she is always looking for new and interesting ways to help readers access quality and evidence-based information.