How breathing exercises can help with bronchitis

Bronchitis is a long term disease of the lungs. It is one disease in a group of lung diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Put simple, bronchitis is the inflammation of bronchi. Bronchitis reduces the amount of air and oxygen that can flow into the lungs and causes a heavy phlegm to form in the airway. As the bronchial tubes swell and produce mucus, they get narrower, ultimately making it hard to breathe. Bronchitis may be either acute(short term) or chronic(long term). General symptoms of bronchitis include coughing, increased mucus production, wheezing, shortness of breath, sore throat, difficulty sleeping, high fever, and sputum with blood. (1)

How breathing exercises can help with bronchitis?

Breathing exercises are the fundamental interventions for bronchitis patients, and they are used to improve the pulmonary status and increase patients overall endurance. Breathing techniques not only help in managing respiratory ailments but also some of the emotional or physical factors that cause the disease. 

When you have healthy lungs, breathing is easy and comes naturally but, when a person has bronchitis or any other COPD, he or she finds it very difficult to breathe normally and experiences shortness of breath. Patients with bronchitis tend to be lazier, and they avoid doing physical activities as it makes them short of breath. With bronchitis or any other COPD, the less you do, the less you can do and ultimately making the muscle weak. Weak muscles need more oxygen and can easily make a person short of breath. What breathing exercises do is that they make the person active again, clears the airway, and strengthen the muscles that help in breathing. (2)

Over time in patients with bronchitis, stale air builds up in the lungs, making it difficult for the diaphragm to contract and bring in fresh air. When the diaphragm is not working properly, the body starts to use other muscles in the shoulder, neck, and chest to breathe, which ultimately leads to low oxygen levels in the body. Breathing exercises play a phenomenal role here and help get rid of the accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels, strengthen the diaphragm, and get the diaphragm to do its job of assisting in breathing. 

Breathing exercises for bronchitis

Patients with bronchitis describe shortness of breath as air hunger, and that can be scary, often leading to suffocation. Increased mucus production is another common symptom of bronchitis that can contribute to shortness of breath. Breathing exercises help cope up with these symptoms effectively and clear the airway. 

While there are many breathing exercises, below are few that are useful for patients with bronchitis or any other COPD. 

  1. Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing(PLB) is the simplest breathing technique that helps control shortness of breath and causes general relaxation. It helps keep airways open longer, removing the air that is trapped in the lungs by slowing down the breathing rate and relieves shortness of breath. PLB stimulates the autonomic nervous system, decreases the respiratory rate, improves the alveolar ventilation, and ameliorates physiological parameters. This technique is believed to prevent premature airway collapse by increasing the positive pressure generated within the airways. This technique increases the use of diaphragm and decreases accessory muscle recruitment. It brings a sense of calm and enhances pulmonary efficiency in patients with bronchitis. Here’s how you do it: (3)

  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Purse the lips as if to whistle
  • Breathe in through your nose with pursed lips for 2 seconds
  • Breathe out through the mouth with pursed lips for 4 to 6 seconds. 
  • Repeat several times

Slowing the rate of breathing and concentrating on exhalation through pursed lips restores oxygen to the system and helps overcome symptoms of bronchitis. 

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing, helps strengthen the diaphragm, one of the major muscles used for breathing. When the diaphragm is not working properly, the body starts to use other muscles in the shoulder, neck, and chest to breathe, which ultimately leads to low oxygen levels in the body. Diaphragmatic breathing helps people with bronchitis retrain the diaphragm to work better and more effectively. All of these interventions ultimately lead to getting rid of air trapped in the lungs and minimizes the symptoms of bronchitis. It is very easy to learn, and here’s a brief way on how to perform it: (4)

  • Get into a comfortable position with your back straight and knees bent. 
  • Place one hand on your chest and other on your belly. 
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose as you count till 4.
  • As you inhale, feel the rise and fall of breathing more in the abdomen, than in the chest. You have to make the hand that rests over the stomach move more than the one on the chest. 
  • Exhale all of the air through the nose. 
  • Repeat as you are able. 

What are breathing techniques for clearing the mucus?

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the breathing tubes, and this inflammation causes increased mucus production and other changes. Increased mucus production, one of the prominent symptoms of bronchitis, can lead to shortness of breath, and an increased risk of infection if not cleared. Here are a few techniques for clearing the mucus:

  1. Postural drainage

Postural drainage is an airway clearance technique that helps people with bronchitis clear mucus from the lungs. Lungs consist of five lobes, and postural drainage aims at draining mucus from each of these lobes. It uses a combination of vibration(a vibrating movement done with flat hands) and chest percussion(a clapping movement performed with cupped hands). (5)

  1. Controlled coughing

Coughing is the body’s normal response to clearing the airway however, in patients with bronchitis, there is an increased production of mucus, leading to frequent coughing. Uncontrolled coughing causes airways to collapse, trapping mucus. An effective cough is the one that is controlled and comes from deep within the lungs, clearing away all the mucus in it. It also saves oxygen. (6)

  • Sit on the edge of a chair, leaning forward slightly. 
  • Fold both arms across your abdomen and breathe in slowly through the nose. 
  • Pressing your arms into your belly, lean forward and exhale. 
  • Slightly open your mouth and cough 2-3 times. Each cough should be sharp and short. 
  • Inhale through the nose gently and slowly.
  • Rest and repeat. 

Breathing exercises play a fundamental role in minimizing the symptoms of bronchitis or any other COPD. Practice makes perfect, and performing them daily, can aid you with your bronchitis treatment as well as increase the quality of life. 

REFERENCES

  1. Reid LM. Pathology of chronic bronchitis. Lancet. 1954:275-8.
  1. McNeill RS, McKenzie JM. An assessment of the value of breathing exercises in chronic bronchitis and asthma. Thorax. 1955 Sep;10(3):250.
  1. Ingham Jr RH, Schilder DP. Effect of pursed lips expiration on the pulmonary pressure-flow relationship in obstructive lung disease. American Review of Respiratory Disease. 1967 Sep;96(3):381-8.
  1. Williams IP, Smith CM, McGavin CR. Diaphragmatic breathing training and walking performance in chronic airways obstruction. British journal of diseases of the chest. 1982 Jan 1;76:164-6.
  1. Oldenburg Jr FA, Dolovich MB, Montgomery JM, Newhouse MT. Effects of postural drainage, exercise, and cough on mucus clearance in chronic bronchitis. American Review of Respiratory Disease. 1979 Oct;120(4):739-45.
  1. Oldenburg Jr FA, Dolovich MB, Montgomery JM, Newhouse MT. Effects of postural drainage, exercise, and cough on mucus clearance in chronic bronchitis. American Review of Respiratory Disease. 1979 Oct;120(4):739-45.