Is It Possible to Restore Pulmonary Health?

Thanks to medical advances, it's possible to restore pulmonary health in patients who are affected by chronic and acute respiratory diseases. A pulmonary rehabilitation technique exists to do this, and it's already available in many countries.
Is It Possible to Restore Pulmonary Health?

Last update: 26 May, 2021

Pulmonary health can suffer both acute and chronic damage. However, thanks to advances in rehabilitation techniques, we can recover lung health in part or even completely.

We must remember that lung diseases are very common. COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, affects 10% of the adult population over 40 years of age.

Patients with COPD see their quality of life altered by the constant respiratory effort they must make. Many of them need supplemental oxygen in the evening and, in the worst cases, for the entire day.

Until recently, the only solution was this oxygen and some medication, including bronchodilators. However, considerable progress has been made to consider the possibility of restoring lung health. This is how the concept of pulmonary rehabilitation came about.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a step-by-step process that aims to improve the quality of life of patients with respiratory diseases. There are variants of the program that are applied in health centers, and others that patients can carry out in their homes.

Who can recover pulmonary health?

Pulmonary rehabilitation has a specific target group. This is so because there are many patients without diagnosis and it’s difficult to treat them. So, recommendations can only be applied to the general population.

The following groups can recover their pulmonary health with rehabilitation:

  • COPD: People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are ideal candidates for these programs. COPD includes asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and atelectasis.
  • Muscular dystrophies: Patients with muscular diseases that alter the capacity of the thoracic respiratory cage also need it.
  • Cystic fibrosis: This genetic pathology causes the accumulation of thick viscous substances in the bronchi. Among all the supportive tasks to be performed, one of them is pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Interstitial disease: Some disorders affect lung tissue causing fibrosis or scarring that reduces respiratory capacity. We can mention sarcoidosis as an example.
  • Patients undergoing lung surgery
A doctor holding what appears to be a digital image of the lungs.
COPD patients are ideal candidates for pulmonary rehabilitation programs.

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What takes place during pulmonary rehabilitation?

To restore lung health, rehabilitation involves a series of activities. A multidisciplinary team participates and works in a coordinated manner for the good of the patient.

An important part of this is exercise. In general, physical therapists specializing in pulmonary health are in charge of guiding a program that adapts to the patient’s possibilities.

If the person with lung disease has weight problems, then a nutritionist will also participate in the process. Eliminating excess weight is essential, as a surplus of fatty tissue greatly affects respiratory dynamics.

Nutrition is part of health education, which is also part of the pulmonary rehabilitation program. In successive meetings, the patient receives information on how to eat, what to do when they have acute attacks, and how to regulate their effort to maximize rehabilitation. There’s also a physician who educates the patient regarding the use of medications.

The psychological aspect is no less important. Pulmonary rehabilitation teams have a psychologist who, in individual or group sessions, supports the changes and the patient’s interpretation of their condition.

A patient undergoing lung rehabilitation.
Professionals from various areas participate in pulmonary rehabilitation programs. Patients even receive psychological support.

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Can pulmonary health be restored at home?

There are two issues that prompt us to think about strategies to recover lung health at home. One is the under-diagnosis of lung problems and the other is how difficult it is to sustain rehabilitation with constant mobilization of the patient to the clinic for sessions.

Therefore, there are techniques that can be done at home to improve lung health. One of the keys is, of course, physical exercise. The European Lung Foundation recommends half an hour a day of moderate exercise, at least 5 times a week.

Breathing out as if we were whistling is also a valid technique to perform at home. It consists of breathing out longer than we breathe in so that we generate resistance to the passage of air when it wants to leave our lungs. This is training for the respiratory tract.

Inflating balloons also points in the same direction. In short, what we’re doing is fighting against resistance to our expulsion of air. The muscles involved in breathing are strengthened and become more efficient in their task of exhaling.

Regaining pulmonary health is a long process

Pulmonary rehabilitation isn’t magic, nor does it happen overnight. It takes commitment from the patient and the treating team to sustain activities over a long period of time. The results will appear progressively. However, these small advances motivate patients to continue.

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