The official blog of the Lung Institute.
People living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have to cope with a variety of symptoms. COPD symptoms include fatigue, wheezing, coughing and recurrent infections. However, shortness of breath is one of the most concerning, frustrating and troubling symptoms of COPD. Shortness of breath is also known as dyspnea, breathlessness and feeling short of breath. Typically, shortness of breath with COPD causes anxiety, and increased anxiety worsens COPD symptoms. Here are some tips to help you cope with shortness of breath and COPD.
What is Shortness of Breath?
Many people with COPD experience shortness of breath. Shortness of breath causes the sensation of not being able to fill the lungs with oxygen. Often, shortness of breath and COPD make people feel afraid, anxious or worried. For some people, shortness of breath happens with chest tightness.
How People Describe Shortness of Breath and COPD:
- Air hunger
- Gasping for air
- Difficult to breathe
- Feeling of suffocation
- Intense chest tightness
- Increased effort to breathe
- Heaviness or pressure in the chest
What Causes Shortness of Breath?
COPD and other chronic lung diseases are progressive and will worsen over time. In the early stages of COPD, shortness of breath may only happen during exercise or physical activity. In the later stages of COPD, people may experience shortness of breath while at rest. As the disease progresses, COPD symptoms often increase in severity.
Tips to Cope with Chronic and Sudden Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath can occur chronically over time as well as suddenly. To help you cope with all kinds of shortness of breath with COPD, we’ve put together some simple tips for chronic and sudden episodes of breathlessness.
Daily Shortness of Breath and COPD Coping Strategies:
Ongoing or chronic shortness of breath is common in people with COPD. Here are some strategies you can add into your daily routine to help reduce shortness of breath.
- Take Your Medications—You and your doctor will develop a COPD treatment plan. It’s important to take your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. COPD medications may include short or long-acting bronchodilators, oral or inhaled corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and more. Ask your doctor to show you how to take your inhalers and medications properly. Taking your medications can help reduce COPD symptoms.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight—People with COPD often have trouble maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, it takes more energy for people with COPD to breathe, so they can have problems with gaining or maintaining a healthy weight. For people who are overweight, losing the extra weight can help them breathe better. Talk with your doctor, so you can develop a weight management plan.
- Stop Smoking—Smoking worsens COPD and COPD symptoms. In addition, cigarette smoke irritates the lungs and contains many toxins. Avoiding smoke and quitting smoking can help you breathe better. If you have friends that smoke, ask them to not smoke in or near your home. For smoking cessation resources, check out our free smoking cessation guide.
- Stay Healthy with Better Sleep—People with COPD experience fatigue and have trouble staying healthy. Remain up-to-date on flu and pneumonia vaccines to prevent these types of illnesses. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water often. Plenty of sleep also helps you stay well and reduces fatigue. Set a bedtime routine, and avoid using electronics in bed. Keep your daily activities balanced with rest.
- Try Pulmonary Rehabilitation—Participating in pulmonary rehab teaches people with chronic lung diseases how to breathe and function better. Under the supervision of a team of doctors and medical specialists, you will improve your physical condition, learn how to cope with your condition and receive education on ways to stay healthy and active.
- Remain Active—Avoiding activities that make you feel out of breath is normal and understandable. However, staying active is one of the best ways to reduce shortness of breath. Exercise also increases your stamina, strength and can have a positive impact on your quality of life. Talk to your doctor about adding exercise into your routine before you change your level of activity.
Quick Tips for Sudden Shortness of Breath with COPD:
Sometimes, sudden episodes of intense shortness of breath occur in people with COPD. Sudden breathlessness often causes intense anxiety. Staying calm can be challenging, but it’s important to try. When sudden or acute breathlessness happens, here are some tips you can try for quick relief:
- Pursed Lips Breathing—For sudden breathlessness, many doctors recommend special breathing techniques. One common example is pursed lips breathing.
To try it, sit in a comfortable position, and inhale slowly and deeply through the nose. Next, purse your lips like you would to whistle. Exhale slowly and gently (about three times longer than when you inhaled). Don’t force the air out. Instead, just repeat the process and remain calm.
- Belly Breathing—Another simple breathing technique is belly breathing. Again, sit in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Next, inhale slowly and gently through your nose. Pay close attention to feeling your belly rise. Then, exhale slowly and repeat the steps.
- Think of Something Good—Anxiety-inducing breathlessness makes it hard to think about anything else. Telling yourself not to think about what’s frightening makes it harder to think about something different. However, positive thoughts and affirmations go a long way. The mind can only process one thought at a time, so give yourself a calming thought during intense breathlessness. For example, you can repeat “I am safe” or “My entire body is relaxed” or “I inhale calm and exhale tension.”
What are Your Next Steps to Take?
We hope these tips to cope with shortness of breath and COPD have helped you. See your doctor regularly even if you’re feeling well. Your doctor will monitor your condition and how well your current treatment plan is working. Over time, your doctor may recommend repeating lung function tests, changing your medications or trying something different. If you notice a change in your COPD symptoms, overall health or lung health, call your doctor right away.
For some people, stem cell therapy has helped them breathe easier and improved their quality of life. Many of our patients have returned to their favorite activities after treatment. Stem cell therapy works to promote healing from within the lungs, and it may have the potential to improve quality of life and may reduce shortness of breath and other COPD symptoms. If you or someone you love has COPD, emphysema, chronic bronchitis or another chronic lung disease and would like to learn more about stem cell therapy, contact us at (800) 729-3065.