Shortness of breath on exertion is the most common complaint for COPD patients. Part of the reason is something called dynamic hyperinflation, but more commonly called air trapping. The COPD airways are narrow and when patients breathe rapidly there is not enough time to get out all the air from that breath. Consequently, some air remains “trapped” in the lungs and with each breath more and more air is trapped until there is literally no room left to breathe. Medications are not very helpful for relieving air trapping once it occurs. Practicing and using a maneuver called pursed lip breathing is the best way to deal with the air trapped in the lungs. Blowing out slowly with pursed lips several times is a simple maneuver that can help. When very short of breath many patients panic and forget the instructions for pursed lip breathing, and often do not do the maneuver correctly. Sometimes the patient is embarrassed or too self-conscious to perform the maneuver in public.
A simple device called a PBD (Pursed-lip Breathing Device), worn around the neck on a lanyard or kept in the pocket, can remind the patient to use pursed-lip breathing. This can simulate the sensation and effect on the airways until the panic subsides and the patients can do the maneuver on their own. It also helps with the self-conscious embarrassment in public because it is a device that looks like a whistle. A PBD can be obtained at www.pbd-copd.com and be sure to watch the video instructions.