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Breathe Easy: Relieving the Symptoms of Chronic Lung Disease

Breathe Easy: Relieving the Symptoms of Chronic Lung Disease

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Breathe Easy: Relieving the Symptoms of Chronic Lung Disease

215 Seiten
2 Stunden
Jun 6, 2017


Most people don’t think about breathing; it is an automatic, unconscious act. However, the majority of those with asthma (26 million Americans); chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD (24 million Americans); or interstitial lung disease (1–2 million Americans) are aware of their shortness of breath because it interferes with work or other daily activities. As a result, these individuals seek medical attention for diagnosis and treatment. Breathe Easy, written by a pulmonologist, explains what constitutes normal breathing, what causes someone to feel short of breath, and what can be done to improve one’s breathing. In chapters on asthma, COPD, and interstitial lung disease, Dr. Donald A. Mahler addresses the origins and treatments of these conditions, and offers advice for both standard and alternative therapies to breathe easy. Other chapters describe how we breathe, how to understand respiratory difficulties like chronic shortness of breath, the correct use of inhalers, the effects of aging on the brain and body, and the benefits of exercise. His final chapter provides valuable advice about traveling with oxygen. Illustrated with over fifty enlightening medical graphics, Breathe Easy offers a complete and compact guide for the millions of Americans who are limited by their breathing.
Jun 6, 2017

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Breathe Easy - Donald A. Mahler


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How to Breathe

Breathing in I calm my body. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment!

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author (1926– )

Breathing is essential to life. One purpose of each and every breath is to take in oxygen. However, it is equally important that we get rid of carbon dioxide—a waste product of our body—during exhalation. To understand how to breathe, it is helpful to review the parts (anatomy) and workings (function) of the respiratory system. This information provides a framework for knowing about various lung conditions if you, or a loved one, has a breathing problem.

How to breathe depends on the interactions between the brain and the respiratory system. These areas are connected by nerves (called the nervous system) that enable communication by electrical signals that travel back and forth. Sensors in the respiratory system provide information to the brain about breathing, and the brain controls how fast and how deep to breathe.

This chapter also reviews specific techniques for how the brain can ease breathing discomfort and distress. These include mindful breathing and breathing retraining. Pursed-lips breathing is a useful strategy that provides some relief as well as a sense of control when breathlessness develops. Lastly, yoga includes breathing as an integral part to control the mind and the body.

Anatomy of the Respiratory System

The respiratory system starts in your nose and mouth and ends in the air sacs (alveoli; figure 1.1). Air enters the nose and mouth that join to form the throat (pharynx) and then passes through the voice box (larynx). The voice box consists of vocal cords that enable you to talk. Just below the voice box is the windpipe (trachea), which divides within the chest to form the right and left breathing tubes (airways). The entire system of breathing tubes is called the tracheobronchial tree because it looks like an upside-down tree. Overall, the breathing tubes (airways) divide twenty-three times as they go from large to small size tubes that end in air sacs (alveoli; figure 1.2).

Figure 1.1 Pathway for inhaled air to enter the nose or mouth and pass through the windpipe (trachea) and the breathing tubes (airways) to reach the air sacs (alveoli). (Based on images from elenabs and kowalska-art)

Figure 1.2 The vocal cords, windpipe (trachea), and breathing tubes (airways), which divide twenty-three times to end in air sacs (alveoli). (

Table 1.1 The upper respiratory system

*Turbinates are long, narrowed, and curled bone shelves shaped like a seashell that protrudes into the breathing passage of the nose. Turbinates provide humidity for the lining of the nose that is needed for smell.

Table 1.2 The lower respiratory system

The respiratory system is divided into upper and lower parts. The structures and major functions of the upper respiratory system are described in table 1.1.

The main structures and their functions of the lower respiratory tract are listed in table 1.2.

Normal Breathing

Most people do not think about their breathing as it is an unconscious action. Although you breathe ten to twelve times each minute, this happens without even a thought or concern. The size of each breath, called tidal volume, is about five hundred milliliters for an average size adult. This equals two cups of air (figure 1.3). Think about it: you breathe in and out two cups of air each breath that you take!

How does this happen? A group of nerve cells are located at the base of the brain that regularly sends electrical signals through nerves to the breathing muscles (figure 1.4).

Figure 1.3 One-cup measuring container. The average breath is two cups of air. (

Figure 1.4 A group of nerves located in the lower part of the brain (brain stem) sends signals automatically to the breathing muscles that control how often we breathe and how deep. The upper part of the brain (cerebral cortex) has the ability to voluntarily control breathing. (Based on images from elenabs and kowalska-art)

Figure 1.5 Shows the diaphragm, which is shaped like a dome and separates the chest and stomach (abdomen) cavities. (

This is called the respiratory center and functions as a pacemaker for breathing. The right and left phrenic nerves (phrenic means mind in Latin) start in the neck (cervical nerves three through five) and pass down through the chest to each side of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that is shaped like a dome. It is the main breathing muscle and separates the chest and the stomach (abdomen; figure 1.5).

The electrical signals that travel through the phrenic nerves tell the diaphragm when and how much to shorten (contract). When this happens, the dome-shaped diaphragm moves down toward the stomach cavity like a piston. Electrical signals also travel through other nerves to muscles located between ribs (called intercostal muscles). When the intercostal muscles shorten (contract), the ribs are lifted out to assist the diaphragm to breathe in air (figure

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