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Does your breathing change as you grow older?

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With advanced age, many things change including your lungs and breathing.  Why does this happen?

Aging Changes and Their Effects on the Lungs

Changes in bones and muscles of the chest and backbone (spine):

  • Bones become thinner and change shape. This can change the shape of your ribcage resulting in it being less able to expand and contract during breathing.
  • The diaphragm (the muscle that supports your breathing) becomes weak and may prevent you from inhaling and exhaling enough air.
  • These changes in bones and muscles result in a lower blood oxygen level that supplies your body. Also, less carbon dioxide is removed resulting in symptoms such as tiredness and shortness of breath.

Changes in lung tissue:

  • Muscles and other tissues that are near your airways lose their ability to keep the airways completely open. This causes the airways to close or collapse easily.
  • Aging causes the alveoli to lose their shape and become baggy and less elastic causing atelectasis.
  • These changes in lung tissue allow air to get trapped in your lungs. Not enough oxygen enters the capillaries and less carbon dioxide is removed making breathing difficult.

Changes in the nervous system:

  • The part of the brain that controls breathing may lose some of its function in older persons so there is less deep breathing, leading to retained carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Nerves in the airways that trigger cough are not as sensitive as before to particles such as smoke, viruses or bacteria. Large amounts of particles can collect in the lungs and are more difficult to cough up.

Changes in the immune system:

  • As you age, your immune system can weaken.  This means your body is less able to fight lung infections and other diseases.
  • Your lungs are less able to recover after exposure to smoke, pollution or other harmful particles.

As we grow older, there are many changes that affect our breathing.  At Family Allergy & Asthma Care of Montana, we specialize in respiratory disorders such as asthma, taking into account the effects of aging and therefore individualize treatments for each person.

This information is solely for informational purposes and not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. 




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