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Causes of Expanded Lungs

By Dana Severson ; Updated July 27, 2017


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. 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.

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. 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. A minimal amount of expansion may not impede the process of respiration at all. Your doctor can determine whether or not treatment in necessary.


One of the main culprits of hyperinflation is smoking, as it can lead to conditions like emphysema, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer. 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.


Another potential cause of hyperinflation is an infection along your respiratory tract, especially in relation to acute bronchitis. 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.


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. 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. This is largely due to the resistance that carbon dioxide still meets in someone suffering from asthma.

Other Causes

It is also possible for other irritants to cause conditions that result in the hyperinflation of the lungs. 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.

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