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Categories > Breathing Disorders > Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Clearing the air: Don’t let COPD take your breath away
Chronic bronchitis

Move it to use it
Move it to use it

If you have trouble getting enough air when you’re just cleaning around the house, you may fear that exercise is out of your reach. But physical activity, such as walking, will help teach your body how to use less oxygen more efficiently. That means you’ll be able to do the same amount of work with less air. Here are some tips:

  1. Before you start, clear your lungs of mucus by coughing.
  2. Practice deep breathing before and during the activity. Counting as you breathe can help. Breathe in: 1-2. Breathe out: 1-2-3-4.
  3. If you feel short of breath at any time, stop and relax for a few minutes, then continue.
  4. The best times for people with COPD to exercise are in the morning and in late afternoon or evening after their lungs are cleared of mucus.

Before you start any sort of exercise program, talk to your healthcare provider.

Pace yourself
Pace yourself

People with COPD say that pacing their activities and knowing their limits is a key to living well. If you have lung disease, try to:

  • Listen to your body. If you wake up feeling supercharged, try tackling the project you saved for an energetic day. On the other hand, if you feel as if your batteries are running a little low, loaf!
  • Tune into when you feel your best—and take advantage. For many people, that’s soon after they’ve taken their medicine or had a breathing treatment.

Day and night, our lungs expand and contract without needing any reminders. In fact, most of the time we don’t even realize we’re breathing. However, for those who suffer from emphysema and chronic bronchitis, breathing is a constant concern. Because both conditions commonly occur together, they’ve been classified under the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The more you know about COPD, the earlier you’ll be able to spot symptoms and get treatment.

Chronic bronchitis

Otherwise known as “smoker’s cough,” bronchitis is marked by a chronic cough. Symptoms also include increased mucus, frequent clearing of the throat and shortness of breath.

Chronic bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes become infected and inflamed, decreasing the amount of air that can flow in and out of the lungs. If the bronchial tubes have been irritated for a long time, excess mucus is produced, the tubes thicken and an irritating cough develops. The situation can get dangerous if airflow is hampered. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. In fact, smoking causes 80 percent to 90 percent of all COPD cases.

Treatment involves antibiotics and drugs designed to relax and open up air passages (called bronchodilators). And, of course, if smoking is related to the condition, patients are instructed to quit.


Sometimes a chemical imbalance in the lungs causes the walls of the air sacs to lose their elasticity and break. Since the air sacs are responsible for trading the oxygen in the air for the blood’s carbon dioxide, damage to the sacs causes the lungs to work harder to get more air to the body, causing shortness of breath. The loss of elasticity also makes exhaling difficult. More than 3.6 million people in America have been diagnosed with this condition—called emphysema—91 percent of which were over age 45, according to the American Lung Association.

As with chronic bronchitis, smoking is a major cause of emphysema. Some people have chronic bronchitis before developing emphysema.

Although quitting smoking can stop the progression of the disease, it cannot cure emphysema. Other treatments include bronchodilator drugs, antibiotics and exercise to strengthen lung muscles and to teach the heart how to work more efficiently.