By Tamara Magill, RCP, RRT, Respiratory Therapist and Clinical Coordinator
of PVHMC's Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program
It is important to understand what goes on in your lungs in order to better
control your breathing. Here is a start… the air we breathe contains
about 21percent oxygen. When you breathe in either through your nose or
mouth, air enters your body. The upper airway warms, humidifies and filters
the air you breathe in. The air then travels down through the trachea
(windpipe), in the bronchi (airways) and into the lungs.
At the end of the bronchi are a cluster of alveoli (balloons or air sacs).
A healthy adult lung contains approximately 300 million alveoli! The walls
of the alveoli are thin, like a soap bubble, to allow the oxygen to travel
through it and into the bloodstream, where it is carried throughout your
body. It’s important to know that oxygen provides you the necessary
fuel not only to move throughout the day, but to keep your body alive.
After your body uses the oxygen, it turns into carbon dioxide, which is
exhaled out of the body either through your nose or mouth. Cigarette smoke
and air pollutants cause the airways to become swollen and narrowed. The
lungs should be elastic and have the ability to stretch and then return
back to their normal size. Smoking causes your lungs to lose their elasticity
and get big and floppy, making it difficult to exhale the air out of the lungs.
When diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), you may
feel both frightened and relieved to finally know what’s been going
on with your breathing. Some people immediately want to learn everything
they can about COPD in the hope of gaining control over the disease. Others
choose a slower approach, learning bits and pieces, letting it sink in
and asking a lot of questions.
In either case, you may experience various emotions dealing with COPD.
The most common are depression, anxiety, and panic when you have shortness
of breath. No doubt about it, it can be frightening when you lose your
breath and it becomes difficult to do even simple daily activities. These
feelings are completely normal, so don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed
about them. With 24 million Americans suffering from COPD, you are definitely
There’s help. Here are some useful tips…
- Tell your doctor if you become anxious or depressed.
- Take control by learning about COPD, its effect on your lungs and proper
techniques that help control your breathing.
- Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Talk
with others in the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program or other COPD support
group, you’ll learn from respiratory therapists, share concerns
and ideas and find encouragement from other participants.
- Most important … stay active! You may not be able to do some of
the things you used to do, but it shouldn’t stop you from doing
everything. By exercising and staying active, you improve your overall
health, strength, flexibility and emotional wellbeing.
For more information, visit: www.copdfoundation.org.