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Music for Your Lungs

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Ever tried breathing thru a tiny straw all day long? That's what it's like for many patients with lung disease -- every breath is a struggle. Now, patients can breathe a sigh of relief with a new technique that is helping them breath easier.

Chronic lung disease makes breathing difficult for 88-year-old Doris West. But now, a new harmonica class is helping tune up weakened lungs. Learning a few catchy tunes isn't the only reason Doris looks forward to her harmonica class. "We have a lot of joking and fun while we are presumably benefiting our breathing," she says.

MeiLan Han, M.D., a pulmonologist at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich., says, "In order to play a song you have to be able to take a deep breath in and blow out against resistance, which can help to strengthen the respiratory muscles."

Pulmonologists call it bodybuilding for the lungs -- the class doesn't focus on rhythm and tone, just on improved breathing. "When the patient takes a deep breath in and out while playing the harmonica, it slows down their breathing and helps them to relax," Dr. Han says.

The trick to harmonica playing is pushing air from the lungs into the instrument and then sucking air back into the lungs. This repeated pattern helps patients learn to control and boost their breathing.

Dr. Han says, "I'm hopeful that the harmonica class has at least improved their quality of life, made them happier, and taught them some breathing techniques."

Doris is already breathing easier and back to daily bike-rides, but she still takes time to rehearse.

The harmonica classes are helpful for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which results from chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

University of Michigan Health System
1500 E. Medical Center Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
(734) 936-4000

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