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How breathing exercises help after lung infections
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How breathing exercises help after lung infections

Practicing breathing exercises while recovering from a lung infection helps in improving the breath and also reduces the sense of breathlessness
People with chronic pulmonary diseases such as COPD can also benefit from breathing exercises. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

Though breathing exercises can keep your lungs healthy in the absence of any illnesses or underlying disorders, they can also help your lungs recover from infections. They are also recommended for people with underlying chronic diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, consultant interventional pulmonology and sleep medicine, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad says that in case of a lung infection or when undergoes a surgery in the upper abdomen or in the lower part of the chest, the residual air volume of the lungs, the air that remains in one’s lungs even after one makes a forceful expiration will see a fall.

When one is not facing any lung infections, it is usually recommended that one takes a ‘sigh breath’ — a technique in which one breath is almost three times the volume of a normal breath routinely, to keep the airways open, says Dr Balasubramanian.

However, when a person is recovering from a lung infection like pneumonia or recovering from a surgery, they may be facing breathing difficulties and may not be able to routinely take these sigh breaths.

“This could lead to an imminent collapse of the lungs. To prevent this from happening, such people are taught some breathing exercises to keep the air sacs open, leading to much better oxygenation in the body,” he says.

Dr Balasubramanian says that people with chronic pulmonary diseases such as COPD, most often caused by chronic smoking, can also benefit from breathing exercises. “Their lungs are damaged, these persons already have a very low reserve of lung volume. In such persons, practicing breathing exercises, especially in the post-infective state, can be very useful. Through these exercises, they’re able to breathe much better and their sense of breathlessness also reduces,” he says.

Breathing exercises that can aid in recovery from lung infections

Dr Naveen Dutt, additional professor, pulmonary medicine, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jodhpur, recommends Pranayama, which includes several forms of yogic breathing exercise, to keep your lungs working in perfect shape.

Dr Apar Avinash Saoji, principal of the School of Yoga and Naturopathy, SVYASA (Swami Vivekananda Anusandhana Samsthana), Bangalore, says, “During the initial days of recovery from a lung infection, one may be tired or fatigued. “At this time, the objective should be to simply prolong the breath.” He recommends slow-breathing exercises and abdominal breathing at this point.

“While you breathe, focus on the abdominal movements — when you inhale, bulge the abdomen and while you exhale, sink it. While you do this, focus on how the breath is flowing through your nose and the respiratory passage. This will be a simple tool to prolong the breath.”

Dr Saoji says that another outcome one would want is to rebuild one’s strength, a situation where the breath has been stabilized and one is not feeling fatigued.

“At this point, one can practice rapid breathing techniques like Kapalabhati and Bhastrika- they are known to activate and build the strength of one’s respiratory muscles,” he says.

Dr Saoji says that a third outcome one may look to achieve is to build up one’s immune response. “For an optimal immune response, you want one’s immune system to be harmonized. For this, breathing techniques like Nadi Shodhan Pranayama or alternate nostril breathing and Brahmari Pranayama or a humming bee technique of breathing may help,” he says.

Dr Balasubramanian says that some common breathing exercises that are recommended include:

  • Pursed lip breathing. This type of breathing exercise, often recommended for persons with COPD involves breathing in through your nose and then closing your lips a little while you breathe out through your mouth.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. In this type of breathing exercise, one can keep their hand on their belly or stomach and focus on the movement of it as you are breathing. As with pursed lip breathing, breathe in through your nose and breathe out, for longer, through your mouth.

What else can aid in recovery from lung infections?

Dr SP Rai, consultant, pulmonary medicine and sleep medicine at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai says that breathing exercises help not only during the recovery period post infections but also to keep healthy lungs working fine generally as well.

He says that people who are recovering from common lung and chest infections are routinely provided a device known as incentive spirometer, which measures the airflow, to improve their lung function.

“These devices can be flow-based or volume-based. It provides some sort of incentive for those recovering from lung infections in terms of improving their lung capacity. A person has to take a very deep breath then breathe out against some resistance,” he adds.

Dr Rai adds that chest percussion — usually performed by a chest physician or a physiotherapist — is another common method followed. “It involves clapping on the chest so that the secretions can be coughed out,” he says.

Dr Dutt says that while breathing exercises help to an extent, there are several other factors that play a role when it comes to how well you recover from lung infections.

“One major thing to keep in mind is to avoid exposure to allergens and polluted air as much as possible. Avoid areas with high pollution levels and don’t step out during the peak pollution hours. Also follow a balanced diet with adequate intake of essential vitamins,” says Dr Dutt.

Dr Rai says that other factors to keep in mind include quitting smoking and getting yourself vaccinated against common infections to prevent further insult to the lungs and making sure that your indoors are also pollution-free.

Takeaways

Breathing exercises help in keeping your lungs healthy and also aid while recovering from infections. Experts say that one must focus on the abdominal movements while doing breathing exercises. The benefits of breathing exercises include strengthening the respiratory muscles and improving immune response.

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