shortness of breath, is the feeling of having trouble breathing.
Most often, people have this feeling because their bodies are
working hard to move air in and out of their lungs. Less often,
dyspnea occurs because the body is not getting enough oxygen.
Many things can contribute to dyspnea. Shortness of breath can
be caused or worsened by:
- partial or complete removal of a lung
- some chemotherapy drugs
- radiation therapy to the lungs
- tumor blocking the airways or pushing on the lungs from
- lung damage from smoking
- anemia (low blood count)
- seasonal allergies
Feeling short of breath can cause anxiety, and anxiety can
worsen the feeling, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to
break. However, there are things you can do to make you feel
less short of breath.
Learning Needs You may be able to decrease your shortness
of breath, which will help you do more and enjoy life. You willl
earn positioning, breathing, air flow, and relaxation
techniques. Other things to try include:
- Plan your day to lessen those activities that increase
your dyspnea, such as stair-climbing and bending over.
- Wear slip-on shoes. Pull sock and shoes on while sitting.
Use special devices to pick up items on the floor or ground.
- Ask family and friends for help.
- Avoid things that make your breathing worse, such as cold
air, humidity, pollen, or tobacco smoke.
Positioning: These positions will help your lungs expand:
- Sitting upright in a chair, lean forward slightly, and
rest your forearms on the arms of the chair, on another
piece of furniture, or on your knees.
- Sleep with your head on several pillows or sitting up in a
Breathing Techniques: Pursed-lip breathing slows the flow
of air as you breathe out. This helps the smallest areas of your
lungs open up. It is most helpful if you have chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Breathe in through your nose, as you normally would.
- Breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. Keep your
lips tightly together, except for the very center. Blow out
through this small opening.
Abdominal breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, may
lessen dyspnea by making the muscles that help you breathe more
effective and stronger. If you have not been taught abdominal
breathing, a variety of health care providers can help you learn
this technique. To try it on your own:
- Find your diaphragm by placing your fingers just below
your breast bone and sniffing. The muscle you feel moving is
- Lie on your back as flat as is comfortable. Bend your
knees and put a book on your abdomen. Breathe in deeply. As
your diaphragm contracts, the book will rise. Continue to
practice, with your goal being to move the book with each
Airflow: Some people with shortness of breath feel better
with oxygen treatments. Many people, however, will get the same
results from cool air blowing on their cheek. Another way to
reduce shortness of breath is to apply a cold cloth to your
Relaxation Techniques: Dyspnea can cause anxiety. Anxiety
can worsen dyspnea. It is important to learn ways to break the
cycle of dyspnea and anxiety.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a
technique you can use at home to help you relax and reduce
dyspnea. While live training may help you learn more quickly,
audio and video taped training in progressive muscle
relaxation is also helpful and can be found at many
Diversion: You may find activities that distract you
from thinking about your breathing to be helpful.
Follow-up There are other treatments for shortness of
breath that can be tried, if your efforts arenít working well
enough. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oxygen therapy or
medications. In some cases, a lung or heart rehabilitation
program may be suggested.
- Tell your healthcare team about the methods you are using
at home and how well they are working.
- If you are unsure of any instructions you are given, tell
your doctor or nurse.
Be sure you understand when to call your doctor or nurse, and
have both regular and emergency phone numbers handy.