Hyperinflation of the lungs is a common complication of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It happens when too much air gets trapped inside your lungs. When you can’t exhale properly, breathing can become difficult.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases caused by long-term exposure to gases or irritants, including those found in cigarette smoke. These substances cause chronic inflammation and damage lung tissue.
Over time, inflammation can narrow your airways, limit airflow, and make it harder to breathe. Without proper airflow, air can get trapped in your lungs. This can happen no matter how mild or severe your COPD symptoms are.
Read on to learn more about lung hyperinflation with COPD. We’ll cover the specific causes of hyperinflation as well as options for diagnosis and treatment.
If you have hyperinflated lungs, this means that they’re holding too much air. This can contribute to shortness of breath (dyspnea), which is the primary symptom of COPD.
- Static hyperinflation. Static hyperinflation occurs when you’re at rest. It’s characterized by air getting trapped in your lungs while you exhale.
- Dynamic hyperinflation. In dynamic hyperinflation, air gets trapped in your lungs when you inhale before fully exhaling. Dynamic hyperinflation typically happens during physical activity, but it can also happen at rest.
Hyperinflation of the lungs can lead to:
- difficulty exercising
- reduced quality of life
- increased illness
The main symptom of hyperinflated lungs is shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, even when doing light activities like walking upstairs.
Hyperinflation can occur along with other symptoms of COPD, too. Some common COPD symptoms include:
- chest tightness
- chronic coughing with or without mucus
- needing to clear out mucus from your lungs every day
- frequent respiratory infections or colds
- low energy levels
Hyperinflation is not directly related to the underlying causes of COPD. Instead, it’s due to the inflammation triggered by these causes.
The inflammation damages your airways and makes them narrow. This reduces the elastic recoil of your lungs, which is their ability to push out air when you exhale. In turn, you’re unable to fully exhale. This can trap air in your lungs and result in hyperinflation.
If air is trapped in your lungs, it can be difficult to breathe in fresh air. This also increases carbon dioxide levels.
COPD is a progressive disease. This means that it gets worse over time. If you’ve received a diagnosis of COPD, healthcare professionals will continuously monitor your lung function.
If they think you have hyperinflation, they’ll likely use the following tests to examine your lungs:
- X-ray. A chest X-ray can show if your lungs are filled with too much air. Hyperinflated lungs can also flatten your diaphragm. This can also be seen on an X-ray.
- CT scan. A CT scan, or CAT scan, creates a more detailed view of the structures in your body. This can help the doctor further examine your lungs or determine the best treatment.
- Pulmonary function tests (PFTs). PFTs determine how well you can breathe and how effectively your lungs send oxygen to the rest of your body.
With hyperinflation, treatment is intended to reduce inflammation and improve your lungs’ ability to deflate.
Supplemental oxygen, or oxygen therapy, uses a device to supply your body with extra oxygen. It can be used in a hospital or at home.
During pulmonary rehabilitation, a medical professional will teach you strategies to improve your lung function. This involves components like:
- exercise training
- nutrition advice
- lifestyle changes
Some medications can help reduce inflammation or relax your airways, including:
- beta-2 agonists
In some cases, the following procedures might help manage COPD:
- Lung volume reduction surgery. This procedure reduces hyperinflation caused by severe emphysema. This involves removing damaged parts of the lungs so that healthy tissue can function better.
- Bullectomy. During a bullectomy, doctors remove large air pockets from the lungs.
- Lung transplantation. A lung transplant for COPD involves replacing one or both lungs with healthy lung tissue from an organ donor.
A doctor might recommend surgery if oxygen therapy, medication, and rehabilitation are unable to help you manage your symptoms.
It’s possible to have hyperinflated lungs without COPD. That’s because other types of lung problems can also cause hyperinflation, including:
Smoking cannabis is also associated with lung hyperinflation.
Hyperinflation of the lungs is a common complication of COPD. It’s caused by the lungs’ inability to properly push out air when you exhale. As a result, too much air gets stuck in your lungs, making it hard to breathe.
A doctor can diagnose lung hyperinflation using an X-ray or CT scan. Treatment may involve supplemental oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation, and medication. If these therapies do not work, a doctor may recommend surgery.