Lung hyperinflation is when air gets trapped in the lungs, causing them to hyperinflate. This, in turn, reduces the amount of oxygen circulating in the body. Lung hyperinflation is most commonly associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and, in addition to breathing problems, can sometimes lead to heart failure.
This article looks at the symptoms and causes of this serious lung disease, as well as how to diagnose and treat lung hyperinflation.
It is often difficult to separate the symptoms of lung hyperinflation from the symptoms of the underlying disease that is causing it.
If your lungs are overinflated, you may experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- shortness of breath
- low energy
Exercise intolerance (reduced exercise capacity) is often seen in hyperinflation of the lungs. Even with normal activities, you may feel exhausted and short of breath. In the early stages, extreme exercise intolerance may be the first sign of hyperinflation of the lungs.
One of the biggest concerns about lung hyperinflation is that it affects the function of the heart. With hyperinflation, increased pressure within the chest cavity (thoracic cavity) causes changes in the left ventricle of the heart over time,
These changes reduce the ability of the ventricles to pump blood out of the heart, leading to heart failure.
With pulmonary hypertension, hyperinflation of the lungs can lead to shortness of breath, fatigue, exercise intolerance, and difficulty breathing. People with chronic hyperinflation have an increased risk of heart failure.
The main cause of lung hyperinflation is COPD, a lung disease characterized by three conditions:
- Emphysema: The irreversible enlargement and destruction of the air sacs in the lungs, called Alveoli
- Chronic bronchitis: narrowing and blockage of the two main airways in the lungs, called bronchidue to long-term inflammation
Other reasons include:
- cystic fibrosis
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the most common cause of pulmonary hypertension, although it can occur with other lung diseases such as asthma, bronchiectasis, bronchiolitis, and cystic fibrosis.
Diagnosis of lung hyperinflation usually involves a physical exam, review of your medical history, and imaging studies.
As part of the physical exam, doctors use a stethoscope to listen for strange breath sounds, including those that indicate valve regurgitation or a heart murmur. People with overinflated lungs may also have a “barrel chest,” in which the chest appears to be expanding all the time.
Lung hyperinflation can be detected with imaging tests, including:
- Chest X-ray, which provides detailed images of the lungs, heart, and airways
- A computed tomography (CT) scan, which combines multiple X-ray images to create a three-dimensional “slice” of the chest cavity
- an echocardiogram, to check for heart problems
Your doctor may perform a pulmonary function test (PFT), a series of non-invasive tests that show how well your lungs are working. PFT measures lung volume, vital capacity, airflow rate, and gas exchange.
Lung hyperinflation can be difficult to diagnose due to the nonspecific nature of symptoms, often requiring a pulmonologist who specializes in lung disease.
Lung hyperinflation can be diagnosed by physical examination, review of medical history, imaging studies, and pulmonary function tests (PFT).
Pulmonary function tests
There are several treatments for lung hyperinflation, some more invasive than others. These include:
- Bronchodilators: Drugs that help dilate the bronchi
- Breathing exercises: including purse-pouch breathing to help expand the airway
- Oxygen therapy: restores blood oxygen to healthy, normal levels
- Lung volume reduction surgery: a procedure used to relieve pressure on the lungs and heart when other options have failed
Depending on the severity of lung hyperinflation, treatment may involve bronchodilators, breathing exercises, oxygen therapy, and lung volume reduction surgery.
Lung hyperinflation is a condition associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung diseases that causes them to hyperinflate. This can lead to shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and exercise intolerance. Asthma, cystic fibrosis, and bronchiectasis are other possible causes.
Lung hyperinflation can be diagnosed by physical examination, imaging studies, and pulmonary function tests (PFT). Depending on its severity, lung hyperinflation can be treated with bronchodilators, breathing exercises, oxygen therapy, or lung volume reduction surgery.
Being diagnosed with lung hyperinflation can be distressing, especially if you already have COPD. However, there are things you can do to help manage your symptoms and reduce your risk of complications.
This includes quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke and air pollutants, and taking COPD medications as prescribed.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do breathing techniques help the lungs hyperinflate?
Exercises like pout breathing have been found to increase resting oxygen saturation in COPD patients. One small study found that it also increased exercise endurance and stamina, and even increased airway volume in some people.
At what stage of COPD does lung hyperinflation occur?
Lung hyperinflation can occur at any stage of COPD, but tends to be more severe in later stages. Studies have found that dynamic hyperinflation (you start a new breath before fully exhaling) is present in all stages of COPD.