Why would making the lungs *smaller* help you catch your breath?
If you have a chronic lung condition like emphysema, your lungs aren’t working as efficiently as they used to be. The lung tissue that’s normally involved in swapping carbon dioxide with oxygen deteriorates. This damage traps oxygen in the lungs, causing them to inflate like balloons.
The result? You feel short of breath, even after routine physical activity.
Treatments for emphysema can help slow the progression of emphysema, reduce symptoms, and improve quality of life. However, for some people, these common treatments may not be enough. Some people may benefit from a particular surgery called lung volume reduction surgery, or LVRS.
The Science Behind LVRS
“Lung volume reduction surgery is used to remove small parts of damaged lung tissue, to allow for the remaining tissue to function better,” Giuseppe Aragona, MD, general practitioner and medical advisor at Prescription Doctor.
If you’re feeling short of breath, it might seem counterintuitive to make your lungs smaller.
Think of it his way: Imagine your lungs as a team of construction workers. Normally, your ten-person team works great together. However, if that tenth person gets the flu and it’s affecting their work performance, they might actually do more harm than good. The rest of the team has to repeatedly redo that person’s shoddy work. In this case, the team would be better off sending this person home, even if it means they’re working one person short.
“Damaged parts [in the lungs] are not very functional [or] not able to function at all,” says Dr. Aragona. “There is better gas exchange in the smaller area, as it isn’t having to use a part that may be slower or less effective than other areas.”
The Effects of LVRS
One way that LVRS improves lung function is by boosting the elastic recoil. This refers to how well the lungs spring back to their regular size as you exhale.
Because emphysema traps oxygen in the lung tissue, people may have poor elastic recoil before surgery. This can have a serious effect on quality of life and ability to exercise. After surgery, most patients have a better elastic recoil and improved ability to exercise.
Not everyone with emphysema or other chronic lung conditions will need lung volume reduction surgery, but it can be beneficial to some. If your emphysema treatments aren’t helping you catch your breath, talk to your doctor: You may be a candidate for surgery.