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Breathing Techniques for COPD: Care Instructions

Picture of a floor breathing technique for COPD

Your Care Instructions

Breathing is hard when you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). You may take quick, short breaths. Breathing this way makes it harder to get air into your lungs. Learning new ways to control your breathing may help. You may feel better and be able to do more.

You can try three basic ways to control your breathing. They are pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and breathing while bending.

Use these methods when you are more short of breath than normal. Practise them often so you can do them well.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Pursed-lip breathing helps you breathe more air out so that your next breath can be deeper. For this type of breathing, you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while almost closing your lips. Breathe in for about 2 seconds, and breathe out for 4 to 6 seconds. Pursed-lip breathing decreases shortness of breath and improves your ability to exercise.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing helps your lungs expand so that they take in more air.
    • Lie on your back, or prop yourself up on several pillows.
    • Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. When you breathe in, push your belly out as far as possible. You should feel the hand on your belly move out, while the hand on your chest does not move.
    • When you breathe out, you should feel the hand on your belly move in. When you can do this type of breathing well while lying down, learn to do it while sitting or standing. Many people with COPD find this breathing method helpful.
    • Practice diaphragmatic breathing for 20 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Breathing while bending forward at the waist may make breathing easier. It can reduce shortness of breath while you exercise or rest. It helps the diaphragm move more easily. The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates your lungs from your belly. It helps draw air into your lungs as you breathe.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your breathing methods do not help.
  • Your shortness of breath gets worse.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have swelling in your belly and legs.
  • You have severe chest pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.