COPD and coping with breathlessness

COPD-And-BreathlessnessThe full term for COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD as it is known is two long term lung diseases – chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Anyone who suffers from COPD knows the disease makes it extremely difficult for you to breathe. COPD has no cure. However, taking certain measures can help you manage the disease.


Here are some COPD facts about living with COPD, the symptoms of this lung disorder, how you can treat it and what causes it.

If I have COPD how does that affect my lungs

Air is carried in and out of your lungs through tubes called airways.  The earliest tell-tale sign of COPD is when these airways become partially blocked from swelling or mucus build up. This will result in you finding it difficult to breathe.  At the end of the airways are many tiny balloon-like air sacs, which inflate and deflate when you breathe in and out. With COPD, these air sacs lose their elasticity. If this happens it can lead to the collapse of small airways and make it more difficult for you to breathe easily.

What causes COPD

The most common cause of COPD is smoking. The disease will progress much quicker in smokers. Passive smoking is also a cause of COPD.  Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can also be caused by long term exposure to other irritants. These include:

  • Dust
  • Chemicals
  • Air pollution

How COPD is diagnosed

If you think you have COPD you need to seek medical advice. Your GP will check your medical history, take a physical examination and also run some breathing tests.

The first breathing test the GP will run to check if you have COPD is the spirometry test. This is a painless and simple test which involves you breathing into a hose which is connected to a spirometer machine.  This machine then measures how much air your lungs can hold as well as measure how quick you can blow air out of your lungs.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

The most common symptoms of COPD are:

  • A continuous cough that does not disappear
  • Huge amounts of mucus when you cough
  • Shortness of breath at the sign of activity
  • Wheezing
  • A tightness in the chest

COPD treatment

COPD treatment is not a cure. The goal is to ease your symptoms and make your quality of life better. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease treatment will slow down the progression of the disease, prevent or treat any complications and help you breathe more easily. Part of your COPD treatment will be a serious of breathing exercises which will help you to cope with the illness you have.

Gus Mckechnie 50k bike challenge – Starting with the POWERbreathe

Gus McKechnie 50000 mile bike challengeOk at the moment I’m 21,000 miles into my 50,000 mile challenge and most of this is being done on the Red Funnel ferries.  I have also been using POWERbreathe products for the past six years.  This helps me with a couple of aspects.  First of all I have a form of cerebral palsy and the POWERbreathe helps keep the muscles activated and in general helps me breathe easier.

The other side is that it plays a role now in helping me warm up for my challenges.  I first used a green one in 2005.  When I was getting ready to row around the Isle of Wight (UK).  At that time I was doing it in memory of my brother and father.  My Brother had a genetic condition called Haemachromatosis and also hadn’t looked after his body.  I wanted to row in aid of a number of charities but also to raise awareness of the condition.

We set off from Warsash and rowed round in a way that hadn’t been done before by going around Bembridge first rather than the needles.  I continued by doing a number of other things including marathon rows on Concept 2 machines.  After completing one million metres in Cowes week 2007 I was ready to put the charity work behind me.

Then things started to take a turn for the worse.  Mum had been struggling with her digestion for most of the year.  It reached a period after Cowes week that year when she was so bloated she couldn’t eat anymore and had to go into hospital.  It become apparent this was more than a stomach bug.  Testing revealed by my birthday in September it was a form of cancer.  I made the hard decision to not take up a lucrative graduate position so I had the flexibility to take care of her.  A couple of weeks later it was confirmed as ovarian cancer and on the 12th October the cancer cause a heart attack whilst I was at home with her.

I then had an extended period when I was not exercising on a regular basis.  My cerebral palsy/hemiparesis got perceivably worse as a result as did my physical disability   This started to have a sometimes painful effect on my breathing.  To the point I once passed out in the loft of my mothers house and left myself with a painful bump on my head.

I got back to cycling on the ferry and eventually after originally deciding to ride just 25,000 miles on a bike I decided to ride 50,000 the same distance as twice around the equator.  It was going to be something that I would go into instantly and reel off miles and miles.  In order to help counter act the hemiparesis I need to get another powerbreathe.  The black version was available and I have started to get work with that.  With 30 breathes in the morning and 30 in the evening.

In the past five years I have also completed 9 running marathons (New York x5, London x2, Chicago xl and Brighton x1) and want to aim at my tenth one.  I have also entered the indoor rowing 2012 Crash Bs with a fried from Solent University and im hoping it will help play a role in that as well.  I look forward to blogging for POWERbreathe and keep you updated on my progress.

Charity website: Redfunnel

Crash B team list: Team Entrants

How to breathe when you are short of breath

Short of breath is also known as suffering from dyspnoea or suffering from breathing difficulties. In fact if you suffer from any respiratory condition you are more than likely to be short of breath.  Being short of breath can have serious repercussions for your health if not addressed.  Not everyone knows or recognises the symptoms of a person suffering from shortness of breath, so here are the common signs and symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Breathing through pursed lips
  • Constant feeling of being winded or unable to speak
  • Sitting down with hands on your knees
  • Using chest and neck muscles to breathe

However, adopting some breathing techniques can help you breathe more efficiently. One of the most common breathing exercises is breathing through pursed lips.  When breathing through pursed lips you are using less energy to breathe and you can relax too.  If you are short of breath, pursed lip breathing helps you slow down the pace of your breathing making you feel less short of breath.

If you do any activity that makes you short of breath you should always use pursed lip breathing. These activities include:

  • Exercising
  • Bending
  • Lifting
  • Climbing stairs

Pursed lip breathing should be practised frequently and can be done anywhere at any time.  However, try and practice the technique at least 4-5 times a day particularly when you are:

  • Watching television
  • Using your computer
  • Reading a book or magazine

How do I practice pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing is very simple to do and requires little or no effort.  However, you need to be totally relaxed, especially your neck and shoulder muscles. You also need to be sitting comfortably in a chair with your feet firmly on the ground.  So, here are the steps in order:

  1. Breathe in (inhale) very slowly through your nose for two counts.
  2. As you breathe in you should feel your tummy get tighter.
  3. Pucker your lips as though you are going to blow or whistle.
  4. Breathe out (exhale) slowly through your lips for four or more counts.

It is important you should exhale normally and do not force the air out.  It is equally important that you do not hold your breath when you are practising pursed lip breathing.  These steps should be repeated until your breathing slows down. Pursed lip breathing is great for people who suffer from short of breath symptoms and for people with respiratory conditions.

POWERbreathe Trial – Melanie Ryding Week 12: Level 7 here I come

This week sees the return to full training after my two week end of season break. 5.30am is very dark you know, specially now half the street lights are strategically turned off!!

Up to level 7 now on the powerbreathe. The other day when I started my 30 breaths I thought it was blocked or something, as it’s getting very tough now!! (it wasn’t blocked, it was just me being a wuss!) it was also my first track session since my head injury. I felt very scared and expected it to be rather tough! It lived up to expectations – my legs the next day were screaming with DOMS! (delayed onset muscle soreness).

I – as always, take the inhaler. Although I am still getting head injury side effects, I still (and for some time now) don’t ever need the inhaler.

It is tough changing speed, the brain is a bit behind when it comes to changing oxygen demand, and I often feel dizzy when I stop after running, or very fatigued when I start off.

Luckily though, the 30 breaths don’t cause me a problem.

I remember when I started this POWERbreathe trial, only being able to manage level 2-3 so  I continue to be impressed. Give it a go – it ain’t easy, but my lack of needing inhaler means it must be doing something for my asthma, right?


Melanie Ryding

POWERbreathe User Trial – Maxine Filby: POWERbreathe is progressing

I am now nearly on to my third week of working with a POWERbreathe.  I have managed to move up to level 2 and am surprised by how much stronger I feel already.  I have definitely noticed a difference when I am out training especially when I am climbing up a tough hill.  This is where I have been struggling to control my breathing and become wheezy, the past two hard sessions I have done I haven’t wheezed at all. Progress already I think!

I took part in the Cycletta Challenge last weekend at Whipsnade park.  It’s a Sportive just for women, I don’t really do much road riding so saw this as an opportunity to use it as some good training and test my breathing out under pressure. It was the first time I’ve used Powerbreathe when I warm up, I couldn’t believe what a difference it made to the start of my race. That horrible shortness of breath I had been having was nowhere to be seen, I felt strong and in control.  I ended up finishing in the fastest time and even more pleasing I only wheezed a little at the top of the last climb.

I have the last round of the British Mountain Bike Series this weekend and I am really looking forward to seeing if there is even more improvement.  Fingers crossed I can finish on a good result, I’ll let you know how I get on J

Andrea Cunningham Week 20 – I’m back

Hi everyone I’m back at last with my 20th journal it’s been a while!!!  So I was off on holiday there in sunny Spain for 3 weeks and then last week was just mental with work so I didn’t get the opportunity to catch up with you all.  You’ll be please to know I packed my trainers and PowerBreathe for their holidays too though I wasn’t quite as productive as I had of hoped!!  When I landed it was 41 in the shade and suffering from asthma it did take me a couple of days to adjust to the humidity and I also to decrease the resistance on my PowerBreathe as I couldn’t do it at the level I’d reached.

After a couple of days (and now behind already with my training) I decided I had to face the run…though dreaded it.  I decided the only way I was going to be able to do was if it was first thing in the morning and getting up at 630am on your holidays isn’t fun!  I found a route that was 8miles in total so the first time I went it was “interesting” my chest and throat ended up hurting a lot probably because I was trying to breathe too hard even at that time it was roasting and the longer I was out the hotter it was getting and the less oxygen there appeared to be so I walked more than normal.  Nevertheless I persevered and did the same run 3 days in a row just to see if I would improve any…lol I didn’t!! I then took the next couple of days off and I have to admit I was pretty defeated at how hard I found it…and now starting to panic about being behind with the marathon training.  Few days later I decided to give it another go and did it for the following 3 days in a row…the first day was better than the rest as when I went on the second day my chest and throat hurt from the previous day so that day and the following weren’t so good unfortunately.  It has to be said though even though I did feel like I was going to pass out on a few occasions doing the 8milers during the day my breathing (even with sore chest muscles) was better.  Now way behind with my training I was still very deflated so I planned different routes with what I hoped was better air quality as I had been running through desert kind of land through salt lakes I decided to head for the sea and away from snake land so I took a couple of days off and then aimed for a 14 miler.  This was tough as the sun was fully out in all its glory and hot about 6 miles in and there is only so much water one can carry – it has to be said I hated every moment it felt like I was constantly struggling for air and was extremely happy to get back home.  The next day I did 13 miles but I completed different route and I included the pier which is a mile long so I ran up and down it about 5 times and then from home to it and back home again.  Halleluiah there was air here at least but about hour in it was so warm and so bright it was hard going….I passed a chemist on the way home and it told me it was 31degrees at that time of the morning!  I only managed one more run when I was there just 8miles and again it wasn’t the best.  I was supposed to complete two 18milers when I was there but I honestly just couldn’t have done it in the heat and lack of air!!

So that leads to last week then back in rainy Northern Ireland just home I decided I better get back on track asap.  So hit body attack and did an 8miler as well.  I think I had quickened up to my surprise as the runs on holiday were pretty shocking!  Then the next day I did 14 miles which was a huge amount quicker than I’d ever ran before…granted I did want to pass out at the end but still I was quite chuffed with myself I’m no speedy gonazles by any stretch of the imagination but for me it was good so perhaps all that torture on holidays had paid off!!  This week now as I know I am behind with training its full steam ahead starting to panic now but heh there’s no getting out of it so I’ve got get the trainers on and get back to it!! In case there are any kind souls out there I’m running the Dublin marathon for Marie Curie Cancer Care and any spare pennies would be greatly appreciated

Emma Foden – When I met POWERbreathe

I came in to contact with POWERbreathe in its very early days, about 2004, when I was massaging a group of Ironman competitors. I was asked my opinion on whether I thought it would work or not. In all honesty, I hadn’t heard about POWERbreathe as I was very new to the health and fitness industry.

I told the group I would look into the product and get back to them. On first look they seem very like an asthma inhaler and an obvious too good to be true, simple tool to aid breathing and therefore aid performance. I went back to the group with my findings and subsequently two bought a POWERbreathe and loved them.

Three years ago I was finishing my Masters degree in Exercise Physiology and was offered the opportunity to use POWERbreathe for my final study with wheelchair basketball athletes that I already supported in their training for Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.  POWERbreathe had already been used in various studies among sports people and had great reviews to show they improved sprint performance. Wheelchair basketball is a game of high intensity sprint work and I was interested to find out if a POWERbreathe could improve the sprint performance of a wheelchair athlete.

I conducted some initial tests and left each of my subjects with a POWERbreathe (kindly donated). When I returned for the testing at the end of the study I imagined the results to be amazing because so many of them had said that their breathing had improved and they felt a lot healthier. The study showed that POWERbreathe did not improve sprint performance amongst wheelchair basketball athletes and it was concluded that this is potentially due to the amount of skill needed to manoeuvre the chair during the sprints not just the person’s own physiological benefits. I wrote the research for The British Journal of Sports Medicine, you can find the abstract here.

Many of the subjects I used went on to buy a POWERbreathe themselves and I was so impressed I bought one for my dad. He’s an active wheelchair user in his 60’s but is finding himself a little short of breath when he pushes up a hill or pushes over long distances. When he remembers it (because his memory is going too) his breathing noticeably improves and he says so which is great because my dad is hard to please!

I now own a Personal Training and Exercise Science business ( or twitter; @em_fitnessgoals) and would have no hesitation suggesting and recommending POWERbreathe to any of my clients to aid performance.

Emma Foden BSc (Hons), MSc, MGHT
Personal Trainer and Exercise Scientist
M. 07900 551 730