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Physiotherapy for Relief in Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath or dyspnea can be temporary, intermittent or chronic depending on underlying medical conditions. Asthma, obstructions in air passages, heart trouble, cancer, allergies,bronchitis, COPD, emphysema, neuromuscular conditions, pneumonia and pulmonary hypertension are a few of the causes. A doctor examines you thoroughly and recommends lab tests to determine causes before prescribing medication. For patients with severe or even moderate underlying medical conditions, the pharmacological route is the best.

dyspnea causes and treatment

Pharmacological intervention may be accompanied with physiotherapy to bring still greater relief to those affected with shortness of breath. A physiotherapist teaches the patient how to breathe and slow down rate of respiration. A patient learns how to relax, sit right and pace themselves when they walk or exercise. Air is taken in gently and let out slowly in a natural way, the patient taking deeper breaths each time he practices. Patients learn to visualize themselves as being in a relaxed state while engaged in breathing practice.

A few precautionary measures are also taught such as avoiding bending down, eating too much and reducing weight besides remaining in a calm environment. Other techniques taught to patients are practical such as to pull objects, not push them, slide heavy objects instead of lifting them and avoid hot or cold showers. By suitable planning of exercises or day to day activities, onset of dyspnea can be avoided in those most prone to it.

Results show that practical physiotherapy sessions can make a lot of difference to the quality of life of an individual suffering from dyspnea and should be a part of the therapeutic process.

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Common Causes for Shortness of Breath

Feeling breathlessness due to stuffy nose is a common health problem for some of us. While there are multiple reasons behind this issue, we often get confused about finding the right reason causing this discomfort. Although in reality this breathlessness can happen due to multiple reasons, we mostly apprehend asthma as the universal trigger. As a result we fail to get relief if we try self-medication.

The most viable solution for finding the reason behind the problem of shortness of breath is consulting a doctor and to get a thorough medical investigation done. It is commonly observed that some other common reasons exist, which may cause respiratory problems. To be more precise, there are two mechanical processes involved in smooth breathing: one is ventilation and the other is respiration. Problem in any of these two processes may cause breathing problems. Let’s check here what may cause the irregularity.

Cause 1 of shortness of breath: shortage of air supply causes discomfort

When our body demands more air than usual supply it may cause shortness of breath. There are a few common reasons behind this problem. These are

  • Strenuous workout session,
  • Heart attack
  • Sudden shock creating panic,
  • Due to severe infection in body (sepsis)

The common similarity between all these triggers is due to some situation the body suffers from increased demand of oxygen or there is short supply of air. Supplemental oxygen may be one of the most effective remedies but sometimes unless the main reason is treated, patients suffering from shortness of breath cannot get complete relief.

Cause 2 of shortness of breath: inadequate airflow

The problem of inadequate air flow is usually caused due to certain health disorder.This may happen due to certain malfunctioning of organs involved in respiratory system or sometimes some disease may cause this unstable condition of airflow. Common diseases or conditions causing inadequate air supply,

  • Congestion problem like asthma or COPD
  • Swelling of the airways, like pneumonia, congestive heart failure (CHF).
  • Copd_versus_healthy_lung-300x253

In both cases immediate medical intervention will restore normalcy.

Cause 3 of shortness of breath: problem in carrying oxygen in bloodstream

Some unusual situations may occur where oxygen cannot reach from lungs to all parts of the body, especially in brain. Mainly two types of health disorders may cause breathing trouble like this unstable condition,

  • Poisoning due to carbon dioxide, which prevents RBC (red blood cells) to hold oxygen from carrying it to the body organs,
  • The problem of severe anemia creates lack of blood cells required to carry oxygen.

Cause 4 of Shortness of Breath: Lack of Oxygen in the Air

Sometimes lack of oxygen in air may cause acute shortness of breath. For instance, in higher altitude due to thinness in air at time it becomes difficult to get adequate supply of oxygen while breathing. Similarly in a confined space, due to inadequate or no supply of fresh air, causes breathing trouble for people staying in this no-oxygen zone.

These are the common reasons for respiratory discomfort. Right medication and medical intervention may ease the discomfort faster.

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Understanding Emphysema

Emphysema is a long-term, respiratory chronic disease. People with emphysema have breathing difficulty, especially with exhaling the air out of the lungs. The most common cause for emphysema is smoking and quitting smoking reduces the progression of the disease. This is the most efficient emphysema treatment.

Curios about what you can find in a cigarette, beside trouble breathing?

cigarette content and emphysema

Emphysema is part of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What happens in emphysema?

Emphysema is diagnosed when the sensitive walls of the air sacs in the lungs are destroyed and this is irreversible. This damage usually occurs because of the toxins in the cigarette smoke. The air becomes trapped in lung air pockets, enlarge the air sacs and breathing becomes more difficult. These air sacs may break, damage and form scar tissue. During a lung function test, a person with emphysema will show a far longer time in emptying lungs than a healthy person. He will feel an obstruction in emptying the lungs at exhalation. Emphysema is the main disease under the COPD umbrella, followed by chronic bronchitis.

Smoking is a major cause of emphysema but is not the only one. The deficiency of Alpha-1 antitrypsin is another cause found in about 3% of people suffering of emphysema. Second hand smoke, air pollution, factory fumes and silica dust are all causes of emphysema. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a natural protein that circulates in the blood stream. Its main function is to keep the white cells from damaging normal tissue. A normal presence of alpha-1 antitrypsin enables the white cells to distinguish between normal tissue and invaders cells in infections.

What are the symptoms in emphysema?

There could be no symptoms for many years, but as disease progresses, shortness of breath (dyspnoea) may slowly develop. In early stages of emphysema, shortness of breath may be only present with physical effort. Later on it may be present at rest as well. There may be recurrent respiratory infections, pneumonia, chest infections, influenza and cold, as the respiratory immunity is compromised.

What is the treatment in emphysema?

Emphysema is not a curable disease. The emphysema treatment is focused on managing the disease, slowing its progression and increasing the well-being of the patient. With proper treatment and changes in lifestyle, these are very achievable goals.

Quit smoking – smoking is the main cause and stopping smoking will help considerable to slow down progression.

Bronchodilators – such as Salbutamol, relieve constriction in the air ways, breathing difficulty and coughing.

Steroid sprays – helps with shortness of breath; however, they must be used with caution because of the great side effects, especially in long-term usage. Side effects include weakened bones or osteoporosis, elevated blood pressure, weight gain, cataracts and diabetes.

Antibiotic therapy – recurrent chest infections require repetitive antibiotic treatments. These also have significant side effects and decrease respiratory immunity.

Natural therapies – Of great use here are natural therapies, such as breathing exercises, rehabilitation techniques and home salt therapy. These help in strengthening the lungs, clear the secretions and improve breathing. Home salt therapy is inspired by the sea shore aerosol. The salt aerosol helps to clean the excess mucus production, reduces the inflammation, increases blood oxygenation and fights bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Offering long-term exposure during night, it reduces the recurring lung and chest infections and provides quicker recovery from pneumonia. Home salt therapy helps the body’s natural healing force to better fight emphysema and slows the progression of the disease.

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Understanding and Treating COPD

Understanding and Treating COPD

COPD stands for "chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" and if you have it you need to know that it cannot be cured,  but it can be managed and pretty well controlled. Having COPD should not keep you from having an enjoyable life.

COPD  symptoms include many debilitating symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough and poor lung function. Under its umbrella the term COPD includes other chronic respiratory diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In chronic bronchitis the lining of the breathing tubes become inflamed and lots of mucus is being produced and coughed up. With emphysema, the walls of the air sacs in the lungs are broken down and more air is trapped inside. Many people have both, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

As we age, our lung function slowly declines each year, but for some people there is a rapid decline and this is happening especially in people who smoke cigarettes. Smoking is not the only important factor in COPD. Exposure to irritants and fumes, increased air pollution or dusty environment can also play an important role in developing COPD. Some people may also inherit a genetic predisposition in developing COPD.

How is COPD diagnosed

Early diagnosis and treatment makes a difference in managing COPD. At the beginning the only sign can be a dry cough or a mild breathing difficulty, that usually people attribute them to aging or being out of shape. Breathing difficulty is not a normal sign of aging and people should consult their doctor. As a result of ignoring symptoms, people with COPD are not being diagnosed until the disease is advanced. Early symptoms of COPD can be:

wheezing when exhale

shortness of breath or air hunger or heaviness while breathing

increased sputum or phlegm that is usually coughed up

persistent cough

– felling tired, fatigued or lacking energy

– trouble sleeping, restlessness or not rested in the morning

– needing for more pillows or sleeping in a chair to avoid shortness of breath

– swelling of the ankles due to low blood oxygenation

The goals in COPD treatment are:

  • relieving symptoms

  • slowing the progress of the disease

  • preventing and treating complications

  • and improving well-being

These will include some lifestyle changes. First step is to quit smoking and avoid lung irritants, second-hand smoke, fumes or toxic substances. Quitting smoking can be difficult, so you may consider joining a group, ask your family and friends to support you in your effort to quit.

You may have trouble eating enough due to the breathing difficulty and fatigue. You may need to follow a nutrition plan to get all the nutrients that you need. You may need to eat smaller and more frequent meals, rest before eating and supplement with vitamins and minerals.

You may find it hard to have physical activity but this can strengthen the muscles that help breathing and improve wellbeing.

Take care of the air you breathe! You can use air filters to filter the air for dust and other pollutants. Use a humidifier or dehumidifier, depending what is needed to keep normal level of humidity in the indoor air.   

Consider using home salt therapy that will help in cleaning your respiratory system and expel the sputum, reduce inflammation and help you breathe easier. The salt particles also help in cleaning the indoor air you breathe.

The usual medication in COPD includes:

  • Bronchodilators – help to relax the smooth muscles around airways and helps you to breathe easier. Depending on the severity of your COPD, this medication can be short-acting or long-acting. The short-acting bronchodilators are prescribed in mild COPD and use it only when symptoms occur.

  • Glucocorticosteroids (steroids) – help to reduce the inflammation in the respiratory system; usually they are prescribed together with a bronchodilator for a trial period of few months to check if the addition of steroid helps to relieve breathing problems.

In severe COPD, with low level of oxygen in the blood, oxygen therapy can help restore the oxygen level and improve over all condition.   

People with COPD are at higher risk for pneumonia and your doctor may suggest a pneumococcal vaccine. Home salt therapy is of great help here because the salt particles help in cleaning the mucus and have anti-bacterial properties; stagnant mucus or sputum / phlegm increase the risk in developing bacterial infection.

Pulmonary rehabilitation or rehab is program that helps you improve breathing and wellbeing, through physical and breathing exercises, disease management training and nutritional and psychological counselling. The program involves nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and dietitians.