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Deep breathing and coughing

To prevent lung problems after surgery, it is important to do deep breathing and coughing exercises.

Your lung tissues are made up of many air sacs (alveolar sacs) which are fully expanded during normal breathing. After surgery, it is common for you to take shallow breaths because you may have pain or because it is hard to move. This sometimes causes secretions (phlegm/mucous) to stay in your lungs and collapse the air sacs. This is known as atelectasis.

Breathing deeply does the following:

  • Moves air down to the bottom areas of the lungs
  • Opens up the air passages and moves the mucous out; coughing is also easier
  • Helps the blood and oxygen supply to your lungs, boosting circulation
  • Lowers the risk of lung complications such as pneumonia and infections

Coughing helps bring up mucous from deep within your lungs. As you do your breathing you may feel this in the back of your throat or hear a rattle sound when you breathe. Be sure to cough when this occurs.

How to perform deep breathing and coughing exercises:

  • Get yourself in a comfortable position such as lying on your back with your knees bent, lying on your side, or in a sitting position
  • Place your hands on your stomach; take a deep breath in through your nose; continue until your lungs feel full of air and you notice your stomach pushing against your hand
  • Slowly blow air out in one long, slow breath through pursed lips; when you breathe out, concentrate on making your stomach sink in;   repeat steps 1, 2 & 3 to complete five breathing cycles.
  • Take another deep breath, hold for 3 seconds then huff out 3 times (Huffing is a short sharp pant or like pretending to create a mist on a pane of glass.); on the third huff, cough deeply from the lungs, not the throat
  • Repeat steps 2 & 4 to complete 5 coughing exercises
  • Until you are walking, these exercises should be done every hour while awake; ask for pain medication if you are sore and not able to do your coughing exercises