Breathing Techniques for People With Lung Disease

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Shortness of breath is a problem for many people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). If you have trouble catching your breath, you may want to learn a couple of breathing techniques. These techniques can help get air into your lungs and improve your breathing. Talk with your doctor or respiratory therapist about when and how to use these techniques.

Try Pursed-Lip Breathing

Pursed-lip breathing can help you relax and prevent shortness of breath. It can also help you stay more active. It’s easy to learn on your own. Follow these steps:

  1. Sit in a chair, leaning forward slightly, with a straight back.

  2. Relax your neck and shoulders as you breathe in through your nose. You should feel your stomach muscles relax.

  3. Purse your lips, as if you were going to whistle, and exhale slowly through your mouth. You should feel your stomach muscles tighten. Try to make your exhale last as long as possible. Ideally, it should be about 2 to 3 times longer than your inhale.

  4. Relax and repeat. If you start to feel dizzy, take a rest between breaths.

Learn Belly Breathing

Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is using your diaphragm instead of muscles in your upper body to breathe. The diaphragm is your main breathing muscle at the base of your lungs. Learning how to use your diaphragm when you breathe is another way to help you breathe easier. It can also help remove any air that is trapped in your lungs. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position. Try to relax your shoulders and neck.

  2. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.

  3. Breathe in through your nose as you count to two. You should be able to feel your stomach muscles relax.

  4. Tighten your stomach muscles while you breathe out for a count of four.

  5. Repeat.

This type of breathing can be a little harder to learn on your own. It can help to work with a respiratory therapist who can teach you how to do it properly. 
If you have any questions about these techniques, or other ways to improve your breathing, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may also refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program to learn more. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Breathing Techniques. COPD Foundation.

  2. Living Well with COPD: your patient workbook. American College of Chest Physicians.

  3. What Is Pulmonary Rehabilitation? National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.