A doctor can use their hand to tap your back and chest to listen for sounds during a lung exam.

If the percussion produces a sound similar to a drum, it could be a sign that the air around your lungs is not allowing them to expand. It may suggest that air is trapped inside your lungs.

Hyperresonance can be a sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or another respiratory condition. It may also indicate that the condition is worsening and that more aggressive treatment may be necessary.

Although percussion is no longer used to help diagnose COPD, there is older research that suggests it should be.

The sounds your lungs make can help a doctor diagnose COPD, asthma, or other pulmonary conditions. They can also help a doctor determine whether your respiratory health is strong.

Auscultation is a procedure that involves listening to your lungs with a stethoscope. Doctors perform auscultation on you. The sounds of your lungs can be used to indicate narrowed airways.

If there is too much air or fluid in lung tissue, chest percussion is used to determine it. There are three different sounds a physician listens for.

  • A hollow noise is a sign of healthy lungs.
  • A dull or flat sound suggests fluid in your lungs (pneumonia) or in the space between your lungs and chest wall (pleural effusion). It can also be a sign of a lung tumor.
  • Too much air around your lungs is suggested by hyperresonance.

Hyperresonance is often a symptom of a type of COPD called emphysema. In emphysema, tiny air sacs in your lungs become damaged and enlarged.

This can lead to hyperinflation, which means there’s an atypical amount of air in your lungs. Hyperinflation, in turn, expands your rib cage, creating a temporary condition known as “barrel chest.”

If COPD is suspected, a doctor may perform chest percussion to help reach a diagnosis. If you have already been diagnosed with COPD, chest percussion is a way to determine how much your condition is progressing.

Doctors can do chest percussion in a number of ways. The doctor will place a hand on your chest or back to start the test. They will use their other hand to tap the middle finger of the hand against your skin.

The doctor may start on your chest or back. A comprehensive exam should involve tapping or perspiring several locations around your torso to understand how both lungs sound.

There are other diagnostic tests for COPD, including a breathing test called spirometry. But in a 2019 study, researchers determined that hyperresonance to chest percussion is a strong indicator of COPD.

Can hyperresonance indicate a condition other than COPD?

While hyperresonance is a common symptom of COPD, it can also indicate another serious respiratory condition known as pneumothorax.

The chest wall and lungs are usually hollow. In the case of pneumothorax, air fills that space and puts pressure on one or both lungs.

A person with asthma may have a percussion attack. Their lungs become more difficult to breathe in.

Can I perform a chest percussion exam on my own to test for COPD?

Someone may teach you self-percussion but not as a diagnostic tool.

People with chronic bronchitis, another form of COPD, may use chest percussion to clear mucus from their lungs, but that is a different process.

Are there any other obvious signs of COPD?

Other telltale signs of COPD include:

Sounds of COPD

Along with other symptoms, such as a chronic cough, certain COPD lung sounds can help healthcare professionals get a sense of whether you might have COPD or how the disease is progressing.

The key sounds of COPD are listed.

  • When inhaling, crackling or clicking can be heard.
  • A low-pitched wheezing sound is called rhonchi.
  • wheezing
  • A high-pitched gasping for air.

COPD can be a significant indicator of hyperresonance. If a doctor suspects COPD, chest percussion is an advisable test.

A joint 2015 statement by the American Thoracic Society and European Respiratory Society indicates that the combination of hyperresonance and decreased breath sounds likely suggests that someone has COPD.

COPD is a serious disease. If you stick to your treatment plan, it can be manageable. Learning self-percussion can help clear mucus from your lungs.