If you have a condition that impacts your lungs—like asthma, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis or even allergies—breathing freely can be a daily struggle. While perfect functioning may not always be possible, there are some common-sense actions you can take to reduce your difficulties and flare ups. And many of them are easier than you think.

#1—Manage your schedule for less stress. You’re less likely to overtax your lungs when you haven’t overbooked your schedule with strenuous activities. Plan ahead, and you’ll be able to breathe easier.

#2—Exercise. It may seem counterintuitive, but mild to moderate exercise, per your doctor’s orders, can help strengthen your lungs, and increase your lung capacity.

#3—Eat smaller meals more regularly. Large meals can cause your stomach to bloat and crowd your lungs. If you’re struggling with decreased lung capacity, that crowding can have an impact on your breathing.

#4—Try breathing exercises. Your doctor may prescribe these, tailored to your specific condition. However, one of the most popular is called “pursed lips breathing.” It can be helpful for any of us that experience shortness of air. It involves breathing in through your nose slowly for two counts. Then nearly closing the lips while you breathe out through the mouth slowly, as if blowing out a candle, for a count of four. Concentrate on pushing your lower abdomen out when inhaling, which is using your diaphragm breathing muscle. These simple exercises, done for a few minutes daily, can condition your lungs to breathe deep, and utilize more of their capacity.

#5—Fight the buildup of mucous. Many people with breathing disorders struggle with overactive mucous membranes in their lungs, or overactive reactions to environmental factors like pollen. Staying hydrated by drinking water, can help keep our mucous thin, as can using your prescribed breathing medications. People with more severe build-up may be eligible for airway clearance devices such as chest vests which, when worn, can help the lungs expel their mucous. Talk to your physician to see if you qualify.

#6—Remove known lung irritants as much as you can. This, of course, includes the most obvious irritant of all—cigarette smoke. If you are a smoker, start a smoking cessation plan immediately, with the help of your physician. And if any of your family members smoke, ask them not to smoke inside the same enclosed space with you, as second-hand smoke is at least as damaging as smoking a cigarette yourself. You may also want to eliminate highly scented perfumes, air fresheners, or cleaning products that kick up fumes into your home environment. And of course, if you’re exercising or walking, do whatever you can to avoid industrial smoke or pollutants, and take heed of the asthma/pollution alerts when they are offered by your local government.

#7—Call your physician if you are sick. If you notice increase in shortness of air, wheezing, or changes in your mucous this is your body’s way of telling you it is getting sick. Listen to your body. You can prevent a hospitalization at times by communicating early with your healthcare provider when symptoms occur.

#8—Consider Pulmonary Rehab to restore lung function. Pulmonary Rehab is a multi-disciplinary program that combines individualized exercise, education and medical care to minimize symptoms and complications for patients with conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, thoracic surgery, post-polio syndrome and other disorders that compromise respiratory function. The program is designed to help patients improve their strength, endurance, and breathing efficiency. UofL Health offers both inpatient and outpatient programs to help patients return to an active lifestyle.

Living with breathing difficulties, can be challenging. But thankfully, there are things you can do to improve your quality of life. Visit UofL Health for more information about Pulmonary Rehab or to find a provider to help.

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Peggy Cox, R.N., R.R.T.

Peggy Cox, R.N., R.R.T., has been actively employed in health care for over 40 years as a respiratory therapist. She received her bachelors of science in nursing in 2006. She has worked at UofL Health - Frazier Rehab Institute since 1992, becoming the manager of the Pulmonary Rehab department in 2004. She has actively educated health care professionals, patients and caregivers throughout her career to learn how to manage and care for patients with breathing impairments.

All posts by Peggy Cox, R.N., R.R.T.
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