Have trouble catching your breath? Try this app

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Most of us go through life without thinking about our next breath.

But if you have a chronic lung disease like asthma or COPD, breathing can be hard work.

That's where Emory University School of Nursing Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Weihua Zhang, Ph.D.,

comes in.

She's part of a team at Emory that created the first smartphone app for people who struggle with lung disorders.

It's called Exheale, and teaches breathing techniques to people with COPD and asthma, who sometimes struggle to catch their breath.

"Whenever they get a feeling of not getting enough oxygen, they feel suffocated," Zhang says.  "They feel very nervous and (can have a) panic attack."

Part of the problem, Zhang says, is people with chronic lung disease often can't clear all of the air out of their lungs, when the exhale.

"So, with each breath, they will retain some," she says.   "This app helps them to breathe out more air. So, when they breathe more air out, they will decrease the emphysema."

The Exheale App shows users how to time their breathing, with exercises like inhaling for 2 seconds, exhaling for 4.

And the app scores you on how you're doing.

Zhang uses phonetics to help people practice pursed-lip breathing, to more effectively push air out of the lungs.

"It's not something natural," Zhang says. "We teach them like you slowly breathe out. Adding the words makes it a fun exercise.  So you just say, "Wah-SHHHH."

Learning to breathe more effectively takes practice.

Zhang recommends using the app's breathing technique 3 times a day.

Think of it as a breathing coach -- you can carry around in your pocket.

Right now the Exheale app is free and downloadable on Apple and Android phones.

The developers are asking users for their feedback, so they can fine-tune the app.