Balancing Western Medicine and Alternative Methods

COPD Patients: How Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques Can Help Your Symptoms

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (or COPD) is a term that doctors and medical professionals use to describe a group of long-term lung diseases. Examples of these disorders include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The risk of COPD increases with age, and experts believe that around 20 per cent of Australians over the age of 40 have one of these conditions. Treatment options vary considerably, but respiratory physiotherapy is an increasingly popular way to help people deal with their symptoms. Find out how active cycle of breathing techniques (ACBT) work, and learn more about what you can expect from this type of physiotherapy.

COPD symptoms

While COPD symptoms can vary between patients and diseases, most sufferers experience three main problems. COPD causes shortness of breath, as well as a persistent and often painful cough. A lot of patients also experience increased sputum production.

Your body normally produces several ounces of sputum daily, and you need this material to support normal breathing. Excess sputum production is a common symptom for COPD patients, due to irritants in the breathing passages. If there's too much sputum (or mucus), you may suffer further respiratory problems, so your doctor will recommend treatment options to help you control this symptom.

Chest clearance exercises can effectively help you deal with excess sputum production. Crucially, some of the methods that a respiratory physiotherapist will teach you are easy to do at home, and most patients are able to master ACBT.

How active cycle of breathing techniques work

ACBT generally includes three phases:

  • Breathing control (relaxed breathing)
  • Deep breathing (or thoracic expansion) exercises
  • Huffing or forced expiratory technique (FET)

To get the best results, patients should repeat these techniques in a certain order. Patients generally start by relaxing their breathing, before intermittently deep breathing and huffing. It's important to follow the cycle that your physiotherapist teaches, as this will help you get the best results.

Each technique plays a crucial part in the process. Breathing control shows you how to regulate your respiratory functions by getting air into the lower part of your lungs. Deep breathing helps you loosen trapped mucus in your airways, while huffing helps you carefully clear the sputum up through your airways, so you can then cough the unwanted material out.

You won't always get these steps right. For example, if you huff for too long, you may start a bout of severe coughing. As such, you'll need plenty of practice before you master these techniques, and you may need to see your physiotherapist several times.

Other types of respiratory physiotherapy

You'll sometimes need to supplement ACBT with other chest clearance exercises, particularly if your symptoms are severe.  For example, your therapist may recommend that you use an oscillatory positive expiratory pressure device (OPEP) to supplement ACBT. Your therapist will show you how to breathe out through this hand-held device, which applies a slight resistance to your breathing to help loosen any mucus.

Autogenic drainage is another type of chest clearance exercise that can help patients with large amounts of thick mucus. Studies show that autogenic drainage is generally as effective as ACBT, but the technique may have increased benefits in certain patients. For example, autogenic drainage can help boost oxygen levels in the lung, which can help people with a condition called hypercapnia.

The importance of ACBT

ACBT can help improve quality of life by giving you a series of simple techniques you can master without medical intervention. Crucially, ACBT can also cut the risk of a serious escalation of your symptoms. A 2012 review showed that airway clearance techniques like ACBT can cut the number of hospital admissions. Over time, these techniques can also help reduce your reliance on antibiotics and can even help you take a more active role in sport and physical exercise.

Active cycle of breathing techniques help thousands of COPD sufferers in Australia control their symptoms. To find out more about ACBT, talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a qualified physiotherapist, such as Pro-Fit Physio & Allied Health Centre.