Help, I Can’t Breathe!

Are you having trouble breathing? Hyperventilating? Just can’t get air? With COPD, it can often feel like we're frantic to breathe.

What can affect breathing in COPD patients?

  • Smoking: This can increase risk for COPD, cancer and more. Smoking can affect your COPD and make it more difficult to breathe. It can affect your lungs and cause an exacerbation. It can damage your air sacs and the lining of your lungs.
  • Environment: Second-hand smoke, pollution, chemicals and fumes, paint, dust, wood smoke, strong odors, perfumes, pet dander, etc. can all affect your lungs. Breathing chemicals in can cause a burn to your lungs. Being around these things can all cause damage and make it much more difficult to breathe.
  • Exacerbation: This is when you experience a worsening of your COPD. This can be caused by infection, pneumonia and more. Don’t wait to see your doctor, call and make an appointment. You may be treated with medication, such as antibiotics and a steroid. You may be able to go home. Some with severe exacerbation may be hospitalized.
  • Exercise:Exercise is so important, but it can also make you feel incredibly breathless and hungry for air. But as hard as it is to believe, it can help to slow the progression of your disease as well as helping to increase your lung volume.
  • Being overweight: This can make it more difficult to breathe as you have more weight to carry around. Inflammation can affect fat tissue and excess fat can constrict the lungs, making it harder to breathe. It’s important to lose some of that weight and to have nutritious meals.

How can breathlessness be managed?

Just as there are many things that can make us feel breathless, there are many things that can help. When you are struggling to breathe and need to get your breathing under control, or to reduce anxiety, try pursed lip breathing. Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth until you are in control. It should take you longer to breathe out, than it does to breathe in. You could also try diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing.

Here are 2 methods that have helped me:

  • While sitting, place your elbows on your desk. Stretch yourself upward. You should feel your belly move outward and you should feel your diaphragm stretching up. Do the Pursed Lip Breathing. Do you find yourself able to control your breathing? Do it again. This is one that I find so helpful as I can stretch my body and muscles, as well. This seems to help me with my breathing, also when I get the bronchospasms.
  • Stand next to a table or the back of a couch. Lean forward with your hands on the table, couch or other. Stretch yourself upward. As with the sitting exercise you will notice that your diaphragm fills, as your belly pushes outward. Breathe, do your pursed lip breathing. Repeat. Do you feel your diaphragm and upper body relax? Has your breathing improved?

Pulmonary rehabilitation may help

Also, if you have an opportunity to go to pulmonary rehab, do go. There, they will teach you breathing techniques, exercises and more. Exercise is so very important. Discuss this with your doctor. If pulmonary rehab is available, see if he/she will refer you.

Protect your lungs and take care of your health. Remember to pace yourself, and as always,  breathe-easy friends!

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