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Hyperinflation of the lungs occurs when damage to the lung tissue results in lungs that become less elastic. When the lungs lose their elasticity, the expulsion of air becomes difficult and it gets trapped inside the lungs. Hyperinflation can also occur when patients begin to inhale before they’ve fully exhaled. Consequently, air gets trapped within the lungs with each successive breath causing them to overinflate.2
Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often have some degree of hyperinflation of the lungs which can produce significant, detrimental effects on breathing. In COPD, the lungs can be hyperinflated at rest (static hyperinflation) and/or during exercise (dynamic hyperinflation) when breathing requirements are increased and exhalation time is shortened.
Hyperinflation of the lungs contributes to the following consequences in COPD:
A chest X-ray is the most common tool used to diagnose hyperinflation of the lungs. In some cases, however, the lungs may appear hyperinflated on a chest X-ray for reasons that have nothing to do with lung function. If your chest X-ray shows hyperinflation and the reasons for this aren’t clear, your primary health care provider may order additional testing.
Patients with COPD are unable to fully exhale all their air which contributes to lung hyperinflation. Treatment approaches that allow faster exhalation or prolong the time available for exhalation will allow for fuller exhalation which will decrease lung hyperinflation and improve exercise tolerance.
The following therapies have been used to treat lung hyperinflation in COPD:
 M. Eichinger et. al. “Lung hyperinflation: foe or friend”? European Respiratory Journal Oct 2008, 32 (4) 1113-1116; DOI: 10.1183/09031936.00118807.
 Gary T. Ferguson “Why Does the Lung Hyperinflate?” Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society, Vol. 3, No. 2 (2006), pp. 176-179.
 Mayo Clinic. “A recent chest X-ray showed that I have hyperinflated lungs. What could cause this”? November 14, 2014.
By Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN