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Respiratory complications prevention

Preventing post-operative chest infections
You have been given this leaflet, as you have been identified to be a particular risk of a post-operative chest infection.  In order to try to reduce this risk, you have been provided with this programme of activities to work on before and after surgery.  You may be referred to our Respiratory physiotherapy team if you need further help or have very severe lung disease.  

What to do before surgery?                   

1 Breathing Exercises

Pain and tiredness post operatively can increase the risk of sputum building up in the lungs leading to infection and airway collapse. This risk is increased of you have an underlying lung condition. It is important to practice your breathing exercises before your operation so that you are familiar with how to use them after the operation.

Breathing Control – relaxed breathing

  • Rest your hand lightly on your stomach.
  • Breathe in and out quietly and gently through your nose if you can.
  • As you breathe in your stomach should rise.

Deep breaths –

  • Deep breaths help to get air behind the sputum in your airways.
  • Take a long slow deep breath in through your nose.
  • Breathe out gently through your mouth.
  • Try to breath right down to the bottom of your lungs, expanding your ribcage.

Huff –

  • A huff is similar to a cough, but you aim to keep you mouth and throat open.
  • Imagine you are trying to steam up a mirror.
  • Take a breath in and then exhale the air out forcefully through an open mouth.
  • If you wheeze as you exhale you are huffing too hard.


2 Smoking

If you smoke it is important that you try to stop as soon as possible before your surgery.  Smoking may lead to breathing difficulties following surgery, and it will slow down the healing process of any wounds.

3 Weight Loss

Excess weight increases the risk of poor health and being overweight leads to more complications of surgery and anaesthesia, with an increased risk of having breathing problems during or after the surgery.  In most circumstances complications can be avoided, by losing weight (even a little) before your surgery.

4 Exercise

You are advised to exercise daily, getting out of breath for at least 10-30 minutes as advised by our team.  Please agree with your nurse the type of exercise you will do eg: walking or cycling. Please aim your exercise to be ‘somewhat hard’ on the breathing scale on a daily basis.


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