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Pursed lips are not just for kissing!

Pursed-Lips are Not Just for Kissing!

Many individuals with COPD experience shortness of breath, which can make them feel anxious and frightened. While there is no cure for COPD, there are ways to manage and control symptoms. The changes in the lungs that occur with COPD can cause the lungs to trap air and not fully empty when they exhale, we call this “air trapping”. Air trapping makes it difficult to breathe in “new air” because of the trapped air in the lungs.

The diaphragm is the primary muscle that is used for breathing. Air trapping makes breathing more difficult because the diaphragm has to work a lot harder and as a result, the body begins to use the muscles in the neck, ribs, and stomach to help with breathing. There are medications that are used to help control shortness of breath but a breathing technique called pursed-lip breathing (PLB) can also help with these symptoms.

How does it work?

PLB helps to get rid of the “stale air” that is trapped in the lungs to make room for the “new air”. This is accomplished by exhaling slowly and for a long time. Pursed-lip breathing involves blowing out slowly through pursed lips similar to blowing bubbles.

The Technique:

1. Inhale slowly through your nose.
2. Purse your lips as if you are whistling.
3. Exhale slowly as if you are blowing bubbles through a bubble wand.
4. Remember that it should take longer for you to blow the air out than for you to breathe in.

In for 2, Out for 4:

Inhaling and counting, “1, 2” and then exhaling and counting, “1, 2, 3, 4” can help to keep you focused and maintain your timing.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

So many of my patients in pulmonary rehab shared with me how this technique really helped them to feel a sense of control over their breathing. One important point to remember, this technique takes practice! Do not be discouraged if you have not mastered it right away, it can take a few weeks of consistent practice before it begins to feel natural.

It’s a good idea to first practice while at rest and focus on the correct technique then use it with activity. Once this technique is mastered, it can really help with managing your shortness of breath!

Tip: If you are breathless after exerting yourself, stop, take a few pursed-lip breaths, focus on “new air in, stale air out” saying to yourself, “In for 2, Out for 4” and you may be surprised at the results!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • luvmylife1948
    1 year ago

    Very good article and fun to do. It is actually the bad habits we have developed throughout life that cause us to breathe through our mouth. We have nose hair/filters to take the pollons and dust so that we don’t inhale these through our mouth. A much healthier and proper way to breathe is through the nose and exhale through the mouth. It actually feels good. I practised this a lot because I was so short of breath that this proper breathing helped me. I actually have to focus on breathing the right way through nose and exhale through mouth. If I am busy and not focused I may be doing it wrongly through the mouth. I actually feel less shortness of breath now. thank You!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi luvmylife1948 and thanks for your post about this very popular article. I’m so glad you find the ‘pursed-lip breathing technique’ to be so helpful and that it does assist you so well with your breathing patterns. We appreciate your experience and that you share them with the community.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • billk
    4 years ago

    yes ……but what do u do if climbing steps an u hav to suck in
    thru the mouth…..does it still work when u blow out ?

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 years ago

    That’s an excellent and very perceptive question Billk and the resounding answer is YES! The ‘obstruction’ in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) occurs during exhalation. We have no problems inhaling; the issue is getting all the air OUT of our lungs. And it is during exhalation that pursed lip breathing has its greatest value!

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