Did you know that physiotherapists can help you with your shortness of breath?
Oh, and a warning if you are reading this while you are eating, we can also help people with excess phlegm.
If you have noticed that you are more breathless than you would expect for the same amount of activity, then the first step you should take is to see your doctor. For example, you may have noticed you are unable to keep up with people of the same age when you are out shopping or that you have to stop for breath when walking at your own pace. Your doctor will need to investigate the cause of your breathlessness. If it is due to a lung condition (e.g. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – emphysema/chronic bronchitis/asthma) it is worth seeing a physiotherapist with a special interest in respiratory conditions, especially if you have issues with phlegm.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a long-term lung condition which can include illnesses like emphysema, chronic bronchitis and/or asthma. It is common in people who have smoked or are current smokers. Not all smokers have COPD but many people with COPD were medium-heavy smokers when they were younger. The main symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, cough, sputum and frequent chest infections. The symptoms may not be noticeable for many years but may suddenly get noticeably worse. Exacerbations or ‘flare-ups’ of these symptoms are common and need to be treated quickly to slow the progression of the disease.
People with these lung conditions, along with other lung conditions like bronchiectasis and interstitial lung disease often experience the ‘cycle of inactivity’. This often goes something like: “I first noticed I get breathless when I am walking back from the shops with my shopping bags full, so I stopped walking and took the car, then I tried to walk again but it was even worse, so now I never take the car and I am even starting to find it difficult to walk around the shops. I am okay if I have the trolley though. I am frustrated that I can’t do the things I used to because I get so breathless. It’s scary.” If this sounds familiar, you may benefit from a rehabilitation program like Pulmonary Rehabilitation with a physio.
What can a physio do for shortness of breath?
Physiotherapists with a special interest in breathing conditions can provide guidance on a number of different strategies and techniques to help people who have shortness of breath from a diagnosed lung condition.
Ask your physiotherapist about:
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs.
- Breathing exercises, breathing control and pacing techniques to help manage shortness of breath.
- Setting goals and starting to exercise safely to break out of the ‘cycle of inactivity’.
- Exercises for strengthening large muscle groups so oxygen is used more efficiently.
- Energy conservation strategies to continue to stay active and do the things you enjoy doing, like playing with children and grandchildren, walking the dog and going on holidays.
- If phlegm is a problem, your physiotherapist can help you learn techniques and devices to clear phlegm more easily. This will make breathing easier and prevent lung infections that can further damage the lungs.
- Monitoring the oxygen levels in your blood while you are exercising to ensure you are getting enough oxygen to your body when you are exercising.
- Support you if you are trying to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your lungs, even if you don’t have breathing issues. The rate of decline of lung function slows down as soon as you stop smoking.
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