You might have heard about people who have problems with their breathing. And we usually associate this condition with difficulty while breathing.

But, some people have trouble when they breathe out, and that causes your lungs to overinflate. This happens when the air gets trapped into the lungs and that is technically known as hyperinflated lungs.

Several conditions are causing the air to become trapped in your lungs. There are significant detrimental effects on breathing that are caused by hyperinflation of the lungs.

In this article, we will discuss hyperinflated lungs in detail.

Types of Hyperinflated Lungs

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which causes a chronic limitation of airflow, is the third leading cause of death. Most COPD patients have hyperinflation of the lungs. 

There are two forms of hyperinflated lungs. 

a.  Static Hyperinflation

It is caused by destruction in the elastic tissues of the lung’s parenchyma. This results in the entrapment of air during expiration. Static hyperinflation then results in limitation of exercise capacity.

b.  Dynamic Hyperinflation

During rapid breathing, it shortens the expiration time. Therefore, the patient will not be able to exhale completely and the air gets trapped in the lungs. It occurs either independently or in addition to static hyperinflation. 

Causes

According to The National Heart, Lungs,  and Blood Institute (NHLBI), one of the primary reasons that is causing this issue is smoking and that could be from:

  • Pipes
  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars
  • Chemical fumes
  • Air pollution
  • Secondary smoke

Besides, anything that reduces airflow can lead to hyperinflation. Various other conditions are causing reduced airflow. These include:

  • Emphysema – slow destruction of tiny air sacs.
  • Chronic bronchitis – inflammation in the small air tubes.
  • Cystic fibrosis – genetic disorder, causing thick mucus production leading to a blockage in the airways.
  • Asthma – inflammation of airways
  • Chronic obstructive asthma – narrowing of the airways 
  • Bronchiectasis – damaged walls of the bronchi
  • LAM lung disease – that affects women of childbearing age.

Symptoms

A hard time breathing when you’re at rest is the main symptom of static hyperinflation. 

When you feel difficulty breathing while doing exercise it’s one of the common symptoms of dynamic hyperinflation. 

When the lungs hyperinflation is mild or just started, the only symptom that you may experience is exhaustion during exercise, walking through the neighborhood, or even home cleaning. Other symptoms include:

  • Coughing with mucus production
  • Struggling to breath
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Whistling sound while breathing

Complications

Aside from breathing difficulties, overtime hyperinflation can lead to reduced blood volume in the left ventricle of the heart. This will reduce the supply of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body resulting in fatigue and exhaustion. Overinflation of the lungs can also increase the risk of heart failure and that is the major complication. 

Diagnosis

Sometimes it’s tricky to diagnose hyperinflated lungs because of the non-specificity of symptoms. 

According to studies, around 18.9% of patients with COPD are misdiagnosed initially by their primary care physicians. Therefore, for better diagnosis, it is important to consult with a specialist pulmonologist if you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms. 

If the condition is at the initial stage it can be detected with a simple imaging test. 

a.  Imaging Test

Sometimes, hyperinflated lungs can be detected or diagnosed incidentally when the imaging is done for any other reason. However, it can also be diagnosed with a CT scan by taking images from both during inspiration and expiration. 

b.  Spirometry

Spirometry is also known as the pulmonary function test (PFT) and is used to measure the function and capacity of the lungs. It’s the easiest, painless, and effective procedure because it helps to diagnose the condition before any symptom appears. It also helps to determine the type and the severity of the lung condition you have. 

The Procedure is done with the help of a machine called a spirometer. You simply have to exhale forcefully into the tube of the spirometer and that will help to determine your condition.  

c.  Genetic Testing 

When the cause is smoking or other environmental substances then your doctor will check for alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT). AAT is a protein produced by the liver that helps to protect your lungs from pollution or smoking. 

Blood samples are used for genetic testing. If the person has AAT deficiency, he is at risk of developing COPD at an early age. 

Treatment Options 

There are various treatment options. You can find the best one depending on what is causing your hyperinflated lungs. Certain lifestyle changes and medical treatments can help a person to manage this condition.

a.  Lifestyle Changes 

One of the first lifestyle changes that are necessary to adopt is to quit smoking. Also avoid exposure to chemical fumes, dust, or other harmful environmental irritants. This will help your oxygen intake and thus helps in breathing.

i.  Diet

A healthy diet won’t cure you directly but will help your body to fight infections. Maintaining a healthy diet will help you in better recovery. 

The best option is to eat a low carbohydrate diet (complex carbs), with healthy fats, and protein. More carbohydrates contribute to more carbon dioxide. Eat small, frequent meals. 

According to the research done in 2003, patients with COPD were supplemented with high-fat, low carb enteral formula and the results showed improvements in recovery.  

Adequate hydration is important, around 6-8-ounce glasses of water are recommended/day. If you have a mucus problem, this will help to keep your mucus thin. 

ii.  What to Avoid

There is a need for special consideration while consuming certain foods. They may cause you gas or bloating problems. 

These includes:

A salt – high sodium diet may cause water retention and that may affect your breathing ability. Carefully read the labels of the packaged food items. 

Dairy – some people have problems with lactose absorption. Those need to monitor their daily intake. Otherwise, dairy has nothing to do with breathing. 

Some Vegetables – certain vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and some other cruciferous veggies may cause a problem. Monitoring their intake is necessary.

Some Fruits –  some stone fruits like peaches, apricot, melons, and apples may cause problems due to their fermentable carbs. Therefore, low FODMAP fruits are better options. 

Caffeine – chocolates, coffee, energy drinks, soda, teas, and other foods that contain caffeine should be avoided while taking medications. There are chances that caffeine may interact with the medications you are taking.   

b.  Medications 

Bronchodilator inhalers are usually prescribed for hyperinflated lungs. This will help you in breathing by relaxing the muscles of the airways. Depending upon the severity of the condition long and short-acting bronchodilators are prescribed.  

c.  Oxygen Therapy 

This therapy will help people with severe breathing problems. Oxygen is delivered through a mask or nasal prongs. 

d.  Surgery 

Usually, the last treatment option used to treat severe symptoms of hyperinflated lungs that are not improved with medications is surgery. Bullectomy or lung volume reduction surgery can be done depending upon the problem. 

Bottom Line 

Hyperinflated lungs are a serious problem and it’s important to stay mindful of your overall health when you have this condition. Over time, if the condition is not managed properly it can also result in heart complications. 

Be sure to avoid all those factors that are exacerbating this condition i.e. smoking, chemical irritants, and other pollutants. Also, nutrition is a big part of managing hyperinflated lungs. 

Immediately, call your doctor if you suddenly start experiencing worsen symptoms. 

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