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Aspiration Improving Lung Exercises

By Kimberly Rienecke

Aspiration is a condition in which foreign substances, such as food, secretions from the mouth or a foreign object, enters the lungs. For most people, the cough reflex prevents this from occurring. Many of us have experienced this if we take a sip of water and it goes “down the wrong pipe.” Aspiration may be caused by factors such as stroke, coma, gastroesophageal reflux disease or anesthesia. Aspiration is dangerous as it can lead to pneumonia or even block the airways in the lungs. Lung exercises may be a beneficial tool for those recovering from aspiration to help strengthen and expand the lungs, as well as prevent future cases of aspiration.

Incentive Spirometry

An incentive spirometer is a device that uses resistance upon inhalation to strengthen your lungs. This is similar to sucking a thick milkshake through a straw. To use an incentive spirometer, sit upright and put your mouth around the mouthpiece. Take a deep breath in slowly. The marker on the tube will rise as you inhale. Try to raise this marker as high as possible. Hold your breath for as long as you are able, then exhale slowly. Take a break for several seconds and do this a minimum of 10 times an hour or as directed by your doctor.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, utilizes the muscles in your abdomen to strengthen the lungs. To do abdominal breathing, place one of your hands on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale deeply using your nose and push your abdomen outward. Hold for several seconds. When performed correctly, your abdomen should rise higher than your chest with each inhalation. Exhale slowly through your mouth and tighten your abdomen to remove any residual air in the lungs. Do this five times with a goal of completing one breath every 10 seconds. Once you have mastered this technique, you don't need to place your hands on your chest and abdomen, as this is only a training tool.

Positive Expiratory Pressure

Positive expiratory pressure, or PEP, is a machine that uses resistance upon exhalation to strengthen your lungs. This is usually done under the guidance of a physical therapist. To use a PEP machine, sit upright and place the mask around your nose and mouth. Inhale slowly and then exhale into the mask. Do two sets of 10 repetitions.


For individuals with difficulty swallowing, it may be beneficial to do swallowing exercises in conjunction with breathing exercises to strengthen the throat muscles, as many cases of aspiration are due to dysphagia. Weakness in the throat muscles allows food or secretions in the mouth to travel down the bronchus instead of the esophagus, leading to aspiration.


Talk to your doctor first to find out if lung exercises are appropriate for your condition.

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