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What Is Pursed Lip Breathing?

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  • Written By: Nicole Etolen
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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Pursed lip breathing is a method of breathing that is beneficial for those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This method of breathing helps patients relieve the feeling of being short of breath that typically accompanies (COPD). Pursed lip breathing is commonly taught to patients by a nurse or respiratory specialist during education about the disease or as part of a treatment regimen.

COPD is a common lung disease that is characterized by the presence of either chronic bronchitis or emphysema, although many patients develop both conditions as the disease progresses. Smoking is the primary cause, but excessive exposure to certain types of fumes or pollution can also be a major contributing factor. Some people are genetically predisposed to the condition and may get it without ever being exposed to smoke or fumes. One of the most common symptoms is shortness of breath, which typically gets worse with even mild physical activity. Pursed lip breathing often helps alleviate this symptom, although it will most likely never completely go away.

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While performing the pursed lip breathing technique, patients should begin by relaxing their neck and shoulder muscles, as tensing up can cause the airways to compress, and patients with COPD already have abnormally narrow airways. The patient then breathes in normally, preferably through the nose, while counting to two. Before exhaling, the lips are pursed as if the patient were going to whistle, and the air is slowly exhaled while the patient counts to four. When the patient breathes out through the smaller opening, the airways stay inflated longer, which helps relieve shortness of breath.

Most doctors recommend using the pursed lip breathing technique at least four to five times a day until patients become familiar with the technique. Once they feel comfortable using it, it can be done as needed. It may be particularly beneficial during times of activity, such as while climbing stairs or pushing a shopping cart. However, pursed lip breathing alone may not be enough to combat shortness of breath during strenuous activities, so patients should not engage in such activities without approval from their physician.

For patients with severe COPD, pursed lip breathing is only a small part of a complete treatment regimen, and shouldn’t be relied on as the sole source of relief. Patients may require special inhalers or ongoing oxygen therapy. Intravenous steroid treatments may be required if symptoms become too severe. There is no cure for the condition, so treatment focuses on improving the quality of life for those suffering from COPD.

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