What is meant by ‘stale air in lungs’?

This article discusses the accumulation of stale air in the lungs. We discuss the reasons why stale air can accumulate in one’s lungs, and the different methods in order to get rid of stale air from the lungs.

What is meant by ‘stale air in lungs’?

Stale air in lungs refers to the air in lungs that is no longer fresh i.e., the air in lungs has less amount of oxygen, and a higher concentration of carbon dioxide and moisture in the lungs.

In such a case, it feels hard to breathe and can cause shortness of breath in a person. Although this happens rarely, it occurs more commonly in people with pre-existing respiratory issues, such as asthma, bronchitis, COPD, and so on.

What are the reasons for accumulation of stale air in lungs

Stale air can build up in lungs due to many reasons, which include:

  • Person suffers from a respiratory illness
  • Exposure to polluted air
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

Let us discuss these in more detail.

Person suffers from a respiratory illness

Breathing is natural and effortless when one’s lungs are healthy. The diaphragm does roughly 80% of the effort when one breathes in and out, filling the lungs with a mixture of oxygen and other gases and then expelling the waste gas.

The diaphragm contraction process can be compared to a spring-loaded screen door that opens and closes on its own. 

However,  lungs can lose their springiness over time, especially if one suffers from respiratory illnesses such as asthma or COPD.

Exposure to polluted air

Some people who live or are working in places where the air is polluted can also get stale air into their lungs. This is because polluted air has lower concentrations of oxygen, which makes the air seem stale.

Not only that, for people in an indoor environment with poor ventilation conditions, the same can be observed, especially if the room has a high number of occupants.

This can be seen in schools and offices where people sometimes find it difficult to breathe, since the air has low oxygen levels, given the number of people within the room. 

Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke

Smoking as well as inhalation of secondhand smoke can also affect the health of the lungs. Apart from the long term issues associated with smoking, the immediate effects include difficulty in breathing.

This is because lungs get packed with the smoke emanating from a cigarette, which causes difficulty for the alveoli to pull in oxygen, thereby making it hard to breathe.

How to get stale air out from lungs

There are certain methods which can help people to get rid of stale air from the lungs. These methods are:

  • Steam therapy
  • Breathing exercises
  • Exercise
  • Postural drainage

We shall discuss each of them in more detail.

Steam therapy

Inhaling water vapour to widen the airways and assist the lungs clear mucus is known as steam treatment or steam inhalation.

In cold or dry air, people with lung diseases may discover that their symptoms intensify. The mucosal membranes of the airways might become dry and limit blood flow in this environment.

Steam, on the other hand, gives warmth and moisture to the air, which can aid with breathing and loosening mucus in the airways and lungs. Inhaling water vapour can help patients breathe more freely and give instant comfort.

A research carried out by Kawagoshi et al which involved 16 men with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung illness that makes it difficult to breathe, discovered that steam mask therapy reduced cardiac and respiratory rates much more than non-steam mask therapy.

The participants, on the other hand, did not report any long-term improvements in their respiratory function.

Although steam treatment may be a temporary remedy, additional study is needed before researchers can completely comprehend the advantages of steam therapy on lung health.

Breathing exercises

Stale air accumulates over time, leaving less space for the diaphragm to flex and draw in fresh oxygen. When the diaphragm isn’t operating properly, the body resorts to breathing through other muscles in the neck, back, and chest.

This results in a reduction in oxygen levels and a reduction in the amount of reserve available for exercise and activities. 

Breathing exercises, if done consistently, can help clear the lungs of accumulated stale air, boost oxygen levels, and reactivate the diaphragm, which helps you breathe.

We shall describe two exercises in brief that help to get rid of stale air from the lungs.

Pursed Lip Breathing

This practise helps you take fewer breaths and keep your airways open for longer. You can be more physically active since more air can move in and out of your lungs. 

Simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth for at least twice as long with pursed lips to practise.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Begin by breathing in via your nose, just as you would with pursed lip breathing. Keep an eye on how your stomach fills up with air. 

To be conscious of your tummy rising and falling, place your hands lightly on your stomach or place a tissue box on it. Exhale for at least two to three times as long as you inhale through your mouth. 

Relax your neck and shoulders while you retrain your diaphragm to assist in the filling and emptying of your lungs. 

Controlled coughing

Coughing is the body’s natural method of releasing poisons trapped in mucus. Coughing with control loosens extra mucus in the lungs and sends it up the airways.

COPD patients should use this exercise to help clean their lungs, according to doctors. Fold your arms across your tummy while sitting in a chair with your shoulders relaxed and your feet flat on the floor.

Inhale gently via the nose, and exhale softly while bending forward and pressing your arms towards your tummy. Cough twice or three times while exhaling with your mouth slightly open.

Inhale gently via the nose, relax, and repeat the process for as long as necessary.


Regular exercise can enhance people’s physical and mental health while also lowering their chance of developing a variety of diseases, such as stroke and heart disease.

Exercise makes the muscles work harder, which raises the body’s breathing rate, allowing more oxygen to reach the muscles. 

It also enhances circulation, allowing the body to remove the extra carbon dioxide produced during exercise more efficiently.

Regular exercise will cause the body to adapt to meet the demands. Muscles will learn to use oxygen more effectively and create less carbon dioxide as a result of this training.

People with chronic lung diseases can benefit from regular exercise, despite the fact that it may be more difficult for them to exercise. 

People with COPD, cystic fibrosis, or asthma should seek medical advice before beginning a new exercise routine.

Postural drainage

Postural mucus drainage involves lying in various postures to allow mucus to flow from the lungs using gravity. This technique can enhance breathing and aid in the treatment or prevention of lung infections.

Depending on the posture, several postural drainage strategies are used:

While lying down on your back

Place yourself on the floor or in a bed, and place cushions beneath the hips to keep the chest from rising above the hips.

Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. 1:2 breathing means that each exhale should be twice as long as the inhale. Keep going for a few minutes, and change your posture.

While you’re lying on your side

Lie on one side with your head resting on an arm or a cushion. Make sure you have pillows placed beneath the hips. Practice breathing in a 1:2 ratio.

Keep going for a few minutes, change sides and repeat. After that is done, change your posture once again.

While lying down on your stomach

Place a pillow stack on the floor, and lie down on your stomach with your stomach over the pillows. Make sure to maintain your hips higher than your chest.

If you  require any further support, try folding your arms beneath the head. Practice breathing in a 1:2 ratio, and keep going for a few minutes.

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Why does the air feel heavy in my house?

Does air quality affect running?

Can poor Air Quality cause Allergies?


Stale air can accumulate in our lungs due to respiratory illnesses, age, exposure to pollution, or due to smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.

There are many ways to get rid of stale air from our lungs. This involves breathing exercises, regular physical exercises, or by practicing steam therapy as well as postural drainage methods.


Can air purifiers help to get rid of stale air from my lungs

Yes, air purifiers can help to get rid of stale air from your lungs. Stale air can also be attributed to spending time in an indoor environment which has stale air.

However, using an air purifier to clean out the air off all the pollutants and thereby giving fresh air is a viable solution for getting rid of stale air from your lungs.

HEPA filters with an activated carbon filter as well as a germicidal UV light chamber are the best option for getting rid of the stale air present in the room in a relatively short amount of time.

Does ventilation play a role in formation of stale air in the room?

Yes, ventilation plays a key role in the formation of stale air in the room. Adequate ventilation helps to bring in fresh air from the outdoors, as well as remove  and dilute the pollutants present in the indoor air.

In rooms with inadequate ventilation, the freshness of air can diminish with time, and processes that occur within the room can further exacerbate the air quality of the room, thereby making the air stale.

Hence, it is necessary to improve ventilation in such rooms, which can be done by keeping the doors and windows open for some time during the day, provided the outdoor air isn’t too polluted.

Furthermore, for rooms which do not have access to natural sources of ventilation, one can install HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) units.

However, one should also ensure that the HVAC systems are being maintained on a regular basis, since faulty systems as well as older units may sometimes contribute to the stale air smell.

Can yoga help to get rid of stale air from lungs

Yes, yoga too can help to get rid of stale air from the lungs. This is because yoga also helps to regulate the breathing rate of the body, while providing it with the sufficient amount of exercise needed to make the lungs function in an optimal manner.



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