Johns Hopkins Health Alert
Breathing Advice From Dr. Terry
If you have COPD, you may have to learn how to breathe all over again! Breathing exercises, such as pursed-lip breathing or diaphragmatic breathing techniques can help you control your breathing and improve the function of your respiratory muscles. In this health alert, Dr. Peter B. Terry answers the question, "I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). I notice that I become short of breath when I bend over. Why is that?"
Dr. Terry: When you have COPD, the elastic fibers in your lungs that hold open your breathing tubes are partially destroyed, so they are not kept open as readily as if you had all the elastic fibers in your lungs intact.
This means that your breathing tubes have a tendency to collapse when you're breathing quietly while at rest. To counteract this, your ribcage tends to become enlarged and your diaphragm, or main breathing muscle, moves down to enlarge your lungs and help your airways remain open. This stretches the few remaining elastic fibers that are available to keep your airways open.
When you bend over, you raise the pressure in your abdomen, and that pressure pushes up on the diaphragm, causing the lungs to be confined to a smaller space. Because of this, the airways tend to narrow, making it feel like you're breathing through a straw.
What to do … Whenever possible, try to avoid bending over. One easy way to do this is to get rid of shoes with laces, and buy slip-on shoes instead.
If you have to bend over, take a few deep breaths before you bend. Then as you're bending over, blow as much air out of your lungs as you can. Breathing extra breaths before bending over and then blowing out as you bend down does two things. It reduces the carbon dioxide in your blood, decreasing slightly your desire to breathe, and reduces the pressure buildup that is narrowing your airways.