7 Tips for Managing Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of heart and lung disease; it is also one of the most troubling. Treatment for shortness of breath is dependent upon its underlying cause, but there are some proactive steps that you can take to help manage shortness of breath at home. Letâs take a look at what some of them are:
- Quit Smoking â If youâre a smoker, the most important lifestyle change that you can make is to quit smoking. Studies suggest that people who smoke have a 2 to 3 times higher risk of developing respiratory symptoms compared to never-smokers.1Â Whatâs more, lung function decline characteristic of COPD often normalizes when you quit smoking, declining at the same rate as anyone else of the same age, sex, height and weight.2
- Follow Your Treatment Plan â Medications like inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids help decrease breathlessness in COPD and are important part of any COPD treatment plan. Furosemide (Lasix) helps lessen breathlessness, if its underlying cause is heart failure, liver or kidney disease. Antibiotics are effective in treating respiratory infections like pneumonia, which contribute greatly to shortness of breath. Oxygen therapy can also help relieve breathlessness in patients who have low blood oxygen levels. Whatever your treatment plan, the most important part is following it if itâs working well and talking to your health care provider if itâs not.
- Get More Exercise â Physical activity in COPD is like a double-edged sword; on one hand, COPD patients need exercise to prevent the steady decline in functional capacity, cardiovascular function and skeletal muscle mass caused by persistent inactivity. On the other hand, the shortness of breath experienced by people with COPD, especially during exercise, leads to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.3Â Moderate daily exercise has been found to decrease the sensation of breathlessness in people with COPD and produce the greatest improvements in functional capacity and overall health. At the very least, 15 minutes of moderate physical activity, three days a week is the minimum required to ensure a health benefit from any exercise program.3
- Cut Back on Foods That Cause Gas and Bloating â The old saying âyou are what you eatâ certainly rings true in COPD. Certain foods, like cruciferous vegetables, beans and carbonated beverages are infamous for causing gas and bloating. Bloating increases pressure on the diaphragm which can worsen shortness of breath. If youâre particularly prone to gas and bloating, consider eliminating, or at least limiting, foods that may have a gassy effect on you.
- Practice Pursed-Lip Breathing â Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to breathing exercises for lung disease. Pursed-lip breathing is especially effective during sudden periods of shortness of breath. To master pursed lip breathing, inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through pursed lips. Practicing this method 3 to 4 times a day will allow you to use it more effectively when sudden periods of breathlessness arise.
- Steer Clear of Airway Irritants â Exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution can cause and/or worsen respiratory symptoms, especially when that exposure is cumulative over a long period of time. Donât smoke or allow anyone to smoke around you. Stay indoors when air quality is poor. Protect yourself from household chemicals and/or chemicals in the workplace by wearing a respiratory mask and gloves. Take steps to improve your indoor air quality, particularly if you spend a lot of time at home.
- Take Advantage of Oxygen Therapy â Supplemental oxygen has been shown to relieve breathlessness in patients with documented hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels). It may also be an option for patients suffering severe breathlessness who are not hypoxemic.4Â The Inogen One Portable Oxygen Concentrator allows you to take advantage of oxygen therapy anytime you need it, whether at home or on the go. Read more about the benefits of oxygen therapy with the Inogen One.
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN
1Elisabetta Rosi and Giorgio Scano. Tob Induc Dis. 2004; 2(1): 3. Published online 2004 March 15. doi:Â 10.1186/1617-9625-2-3 PMCID: PMC2669462.
2B.W.M. Willemse, D.S. Postma, W. Timens, and N.H.T. ten Hacken. The impact of smoking cessation on respiratory symptoms, lung function, airway hyper-responsiveness and inflammation. ERJ March 1, 2004 Vol. 23 No. 3 464-476.
3The American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise for Persons with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
4Department of Health and Human Services. Care Management Guidelines: Breathlessness. September, 2009.