Chronic respiratory diseases can cause you to breathe faster, which means that your breathing muscles can become tired and weak. Your coughing reflex can also become weak. As breathing and swallowing are related, a weak cough reflex can cause problems with swallowing.
Swallowing and breathing are related. Many people with breathing problems also experience difficulty co-ordinating breathing and swallowing while eating and drinking. During mealtimes, you may use the swallow–breathing cycle more than 100 times. People who have COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions often become short of breath during mealtimes because of the breath-holding that occurs during the swallowing–breathing cycle. The more short of breath you become, the more likely you will find it difficult to co-ordinate your breathing and swallowing. Swallowing problems (called dysphagia) can occur because the need for oxygen will always overrule the need to protect the lungs from food or fluids.