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Health And Wellness > Your Health Symptoms A-Z > Hyperinflated Lungs


Hyperinflated lungs: What does it mean?

I recently saw my doctor for a persistent cough, and he ordered a chest X-ray. The radiologist noted slight hyperinflation of the lungs. What does this mean? Could it be emphysema?


Hyperinflation of the lungs as seen on a chest X-ray isn't a specific diagnosis. It's a subjective interpretation by the radiologist that may mean nothing, or it could be the result of the extra effort needed when told to take a deep breath and hold it. But your concern is understandable, and still, you do need to find out why you have a cough.

Hyperinflated lungs can be associated with a number of serious lung conditions, such as emphysema, asthma or lung cancer. Sometimes, especially in older men, normally functioning lungs may appear hyperinflated as a result of the effects of osteoarthritis on the bones in the rib cage. However, if your lungs are truly hyperinflated, you will be short of breath.

The only way to know whether you have something that causes truly hyperinflated lungs is to do a lung function test. If your lung function is normal, you don't have emphysema. If your lung function is abnormal, you should see a lung specialist to determine exactly what is going on. 


Spiriva side effects: How to relieve them?

I use a Spiriva inhaler for COPD. It definitely helps my breathing, but it upsets my stomach and gives me a dry mouth. How can I deal with these Spiriva side effects?


from Edward C. Rosenow III, M.D.

Dry mouth is among the most common side effects of tiotropium (Spiriva), an inhaled medication for relaxing and opening damaged airways in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Upset stomach is less common, but some people do report it. These side effects may bother you less as you get used to the medication.

Here are a few things you might try to keep your stomach settled.

  • Use Spiriva exactly as directed, taking care to breathe out completely before you close your lips over the mouthpiece. Then breathe in slowly and deeply, through your mouth only, until your lungs are filled. If you don't inhale deeply enough, you'll swallow more medication than you take in through your lungs.
  • Rinse your mouth with water right after using your Spiriva inhaler. Swish the water around, then spit — don't swallow. If you still taste the medication, rinse and spit again. This reduces the amount of medication reaching your stomach.

To relieve dry mouth, try:

  • Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy
  • Sipping water or another unsweetened drink
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
  • Avoiding spicy and salty food

COPD is a progressive loss of lung function due to chronic bronchitis and emphysema (em-fuh-SEE-muh). As COPD advances, you may have almost constant shortness of breath, along with episodes of severe breathing difficulty, known as exacerbations. Once-daily use of a Spiriva inhaler may improve your breathing and reduce the number of exacerbations you have.

If your Spiriva side effects are severe or persistent, ask your doctor about trying a different medication.


Emphysema: Does cold weather make it worse?

Does cold weather worsen emphysema symptoms? I'm thinking about moving from Florida to Indiana.


from Edward C. Rosenow III, M.D.

It may. Breathing cold, dry air causes narrowing (constriction) of the airways in some people with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. This restricts airflow into and out of the lungs and makes breathing more difficult. To reduce the effects of cold air on your breathing:

  • Wear a cold-air face mask when you're outside. You should put the mask on before going out. Cold-air face masks are available at many drugstores and medical supply stores. If you don't have a mask, wear a soft scarf pulled over your nose and mouth.
  • Breathe in through your nose instead of your mouth when you're outside. This helps warm and humidify the air before it enters your lungs.
  • Use your bronchodilator about 30 minutes before going outside. A bronchodilator helps open constricted airways.
  • Use a home humidifier to moisturize indoor air when it's cold and dry outside.

Before making a permanent move from a warm climate, your doctor may suggest that you spend some time in a cold climate to see how it affects your emphysema.


Barrel chest: What causes it?

What causes barrel chest?


from Edward C. Rosenow III, M.D.

The term "barrel chest" describes a rounded, bulging chest that resembles the shape of a barrel. Barrel chest isn't a disease, but it may indicate an underlying condition.

For example, people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — such as emphysema — often develop a slight barrel chest in the later stages of the disease. It occurs because the lungs are chronically overinflated with air, so the rib cage stays partially expanded all the time. This makes breathing less efficient and aggravates any existing shortness of breath.

Barrel chest also can be related to osteoarthritis affecting the joints where the ribs attach to the spine. These joints tend to stiffen and become fixed in their most expanded position — causing the appearance of a barrel chest.

Generally, barrel chest isn't treated.

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