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When your lungs expand beyond their normal volume, they've essentially increased in size. Often referred to as hyperinflation of the lungs, this increase in dimensions can actually affect the overall function of your respiratory tract 2. Not only does it impact the way in which you breathe, but it can also weaken the pulmonary muscles and impinge on the natural exchange of gas, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
With expanded lungs, the oxygen entering your lungs is frequently met with greater resistance, reducing the actual amount of this critical element that can work within your system. This phenomenon can begin to deprive your body of oxygen, causing you to feel more fatigued or tired than normal. Over time, this hyperinflation can eventually take a toll on your pulmonary muscles, affecting their elasticity, which can impede the process of exhalation 2. If you're unable to fully exhale, carbon dioxide becomes trapped, and you're now inhaling less oxygen while maintaining more carbon dioxide within your body, creating an unhealthy exchange of gas.
The impact of this condition, which can be a symptom of another condition, really depends on the level of hyperinflation 2. A minimal amount of expansion may not impede the process of respiration at all. Your doctor can determine whether or not treatment in necessary.
- When your lungs expand beyond their normal volume, they've essentially increased in size.
- Over time, this hyperinflation can eventually take a toll on your pulmonary muscles, affecting their elasticity, which can impede the process of exhalation 2.
One of the main culprits of hyperinflation is smoking, as it can lead to conditions like emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer 2. When you inhale tobacco smoke, the chemicals can irritate and eventually damage the air sacs that line your lungs or cause the growth of abnormal cells. This damage or abnormal cell growth affects the elasticity of the lungs, not only impeding the absorption of oxygen, but also the expulsion of carbon dioxide. As any of these conditions develop, the force in which the lungs expel carbon dioxide is greatly reduced, leaving this gas within your lungs, causing them to hyperinflate to varying degrees.
- One of the main culprits of hyperinflation is smoking, as it can lead to conditions like emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer 2.
- When you inhale tobacco smoke, the chemicals can irritate and eventually damage the air sacs that line your lungs or cause the growth of abnormal cells.
What Are the Causes of Hyperinflated Lungs?
Another potential cause of hyperinflation is an infection along your respiratory tract, especially in relation to acute bronchitis 2. When you're dealing with acute bronchitis, the airways may begin to experience broncho-constriction, which is essentially a narrowing of the bronchial tubes. This can impede both the inhalation of oxygen and expulsion of carbon dioxide. But the inability to fully exhale can cause the lungs to hyperinflate. After the condition dissipates, you'll usually see a decrease in the sustained expansion of your lungs.
- Another potential cause of hyperinflation is an infection along your respiratory tract, especially in relation to acute bronchitis 2.
- After the condition dissipates, you'll usually see a decrease in the sustained expansion of your lungs.
Following along the same lines as a respiratory infection, asthma can also result in some hyperinflation to the lungs due to the broncho-constriction that occurs during an attack 23. When you're unable to fully expel carbon dioxide from your lungs, as would be the case in an asthma attack, the lungs may begin to hyperinflate. But even after the attack has passed, there may still remain a slight hyperinflation of the lungs 2. This is largely due to the resistance that carbon dioxide still meets in someone suffering from asthma.
Smoking & the Cilia
It is also possible for other irritants to cause conditions that result in the hyperinflation of the lungs 2. Things like pollution, toxic fumes and even secondhand smoke can damage the lining of your lungs to the point of emphysema, chronic bronchitis or even lung cancer. When these conditions develop, the elasticity of your lungs decreases, resulting in hyperinflation 2.
What Are the Causes of Hyperinflated Lungs?
Smoking & the Cilia
How Does Running Increase Lung Capacity?
What May Cause Shortness of Breath When Walking or Biking?
Saunas & Bronchitis
What Happens to the Intercostal Muscles in Exercise?
Long-Term Effects of Exercise on the Respiratory System
Breathing Exercises After Quitting Smoking
Infections That Cause a Lung Mass
Causes of Bronchodilation
- American Thoracic Society: Changing the Natural History of COPD
- Mayo Clinic: Hyperinflation
- European Respiratory Journal: Lung Hyperinflation during Bronchoconstriction
- Xu Y, Yamashiro T, Moriya H, et al. Hyperinflated lungs compress the heart during expiration in COPD patients: a new finding on dynamic-ventilation computed tomography. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2017;12:3123-31. doi:10.2147/COPD.S145599
- Hui S, How CH, Tee A. Does this patient really have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?. Singapore Med J. 2015;56(4):194-6. doi:10.11622/smedj.2015058
- Pompeo E. Lung Volume Reduction Surgery for Emphysema Treatment: State-of-the-Art and Perspectives. ISRN Pulmonol. 2014;2014:418092. doi:10.1155/2014/418092
- Milenkovic B, Janjic SD, Popevic S. Review of lung sealant technologies for lung volume reduction in pulmonary disease. Med Devices (Auckl). 2018 Jun;11:225-31. doi:10.2147/MDER.S127136
- Rossi A, Aisanov Z, Avdeev S, et al. Mechanisms, assessment and therapeutic implications of lung hyperinflation in COPD. Respir Med. 2015 Jul;109(7):785-802. doi:10.1016/j.rmed.2015.03.010
- Struß N, Bauersachs J, Welte T, Hohlfeld JM. Left heart function in COPD : Impact of lung deflation. Herz. 2019 Sep;44(6):477-82. doi:10.1007/s00059-019-4816-5
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.