If you have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, you are probably well familiar with being short of breath. In general, this is the reason why people with COPD often have a lower blood oxygen level – so low that you may need to use oxygen therapy, on top of other medications. Aside from a shortness of breath, breathing shallow can be a big problem. When we breathe shallow, we aren't taking a complete breath, and our lungs can't absorb the amount of oxygen we need to stay healthy.
With emphysema, your lungs have become damaged over time because of tobacco smoke. Commonly in this situation, hyperinflation of the lungs is to blame for shallow breathing and not being able to take a deep breath. Shallow breathing not only means you can't breathe in deeply, you also can't properly exhale all of the air in your lungs. The trapped air in the lungs is high in CO2, since that is the gas that we exhale. Your lungs know when you have a build up of CO2, and they attempt to get rid of it – this is when you experience quick shallow breathing and are short of breath.
Unfortunately, shallow breathing can turn into a habit, even when you aren't particularly having trouble. This isn't really the best thing for people with healthy lungs to do, let along someone with COPD. When you have COPD or another chronic lung condition, you already have trouble inspiring enough air because of constricted airways, excess thick phlegm and damaged alveoli, or the tiny air sacks that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from our blood stream.
To change this, you will need to do a few simple breathing exercises. Before you start anything like this, you should talk to your doctor first to see if it's safe for you individually.
First, make sure you are sitting comfortably, and take a deep breath in through your nose, as deep as you can. Purse your lips and breathe out slowly, about twice as long as it took you to inhale. Do this breathing exercise a few times a day to help you get into the habit of inhaling and exhaling more deeply. You should especially do it when you are beginning to feel out of breath, so you can rid your lungs of the CO2 that needs to come out. Make a habit of doing this when you are sitting and watching TV or otherwise just relaxing. Deep breathing in itself is a relaxing practice.
Another breathing exercise that will train you back into breathing deeply, is diaphragmatic breathing. This is done by lying on your back with your knees bent, one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Take deep breaths, and try to only make the hand on your stomach move up and down. This strengthens your diaphragm, which also makes it easier for you to get into the habit of breathing deep.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information talk to your doctor or primary care provider.