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Shortness of Breath and COPD: Tips to Cope

4 Feb 2018
| Under COPD, Lifestyle, Lung Disease | Posted by | 14 Comments
Shortness of Breath and COPD: Tips to Cope

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 and COPD: Tips to Cope

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?

Shortness of Breath and COPD: Tips to Cope

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, cellular therapy has helped them breathe easier and improved their quality of life. Many of our patients have returned to their favorite activities after treatment. Cellular 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 cellular therapy, contact us at (800) 729-3065.


  1. Phoebe

    11 months ago

    Hi Cynthia,

    We’re glad to hear that you are seeing positive results from your cellular treatments. Your patient coordinator would also enjoy hearing your updates, so remember to call your patient coordinator to share your story. Give us a call at (855) 313-1149 if you ever have any questions or updates to share.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  2. Cynthia

    11 months ago

    i had cell therapy twice OnCe last year and a booster a couple of months ago. First in scottsdale and my last onE in dallas. I have end stage chronic stage 4 emphysema. My drs didnt really recommend the therapy because not fda approved. But after the first one my condition stablIzed. Im having a Bit of a problem now with all the weather issues in tornado alley. But as long as i am feeling i need to i will get sTem cell treatments. Right now i dont qualify for a lung transplant. But ive had more things explained and The staff kind and HELPFULNESS is fantastic. They have so far prolonged what i was told by my oTher drs. But at least all my drs all are trying to work together for me. Thank you long institute.

  3. Phoebe

    12 months ago

    Hi Mikie,

    We’re glad to hear that you find our articles and newsletters helpful. Shortness of breath and anxiety are very common symptoms of COPD. Often, they can happen together. The first step is to stay calm because staying calm helps your whole body remain relaxed, which can help your lungs. Remember to talk with your doctor about any changes in your overall health, lung health or symptoms. And, we enjoy hearing from our patients, so give your patient coordinator a call to let us know how you’re doing. You can always contact us at (855) 313-1149. Thanks for sharing your story with us. We wish you the best.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  4. Mikie

    12 months ago

    your emails are good Reminders and information, the shortness of breath is becoming more common for me and the breathing techniques are a good reminder, most of all to stay calm. I am considered young to have severe copd, i have great support From Family, my husband being the best. Again i look forward to the information you send out it always seems timely for my sititUation. I have had 2 treatments and im scheduled for my annual followup appt. iN 2 weeks at baylor heart and lung transplant hospital in high hopes my test numbers will be better at very least the same as a year ago. Thank you, carrie, melissa and jessica At Dallas lung institute.

  5. Matt

    1 year ago

    Hello Santiago,
    Thank you for your question. We do operate under the guidelines of the FDA, but as of right now, the FDA doesn’t regulate a patient’s own cells. Click here to learn more about this topic.

    Here at the Lung Institute, we use cells from the patient’s own blood or bone marrow. Click here to learn more about the basics of cell therapy.

    If you have any other questions, please give one of our staff members a call at (855) 313-1149. That way they can get a better understanding of your medical situation and give you the best info possible. Thanks again and have a great day.

  6. Phoebe

    1 year ago

    Dear Wanda,

    Thank you for your comment and question. If you have questions about your current medications, we recommend talking with your doctor. If you’re interested in learning more about cellular treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149 and our medical staff will answer your questions, discuss candidacy and talk about the treatment options available. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  7. Phoebe

    1 year ago

    Dear R.C.,

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing some of your story with us. We’re sorry to hear about the challenges you have faced, but we thank you for your service to our country. Please feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149 if you have any questions regarding cell therapy for COPD, and our medical staff would be happy to answer your questions. We wish you the best.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  8. R.C.

    1 year ago


  9. wanda

    1 year ago

    I HAVE IDOPATHIC pulmonary Fibrosis.i am taking esbriet .Is this a good treatment for me I am 79 yrs. believed to be caused by hair spray from working in a beauty which was not ventilated

  10. Santiago Arroyo

    1 year ago

    I have emphysema. I went to see my doctor to seek his approval to cellular treatment procedure but unfortunately, my doctor did not recommend it. It seems the cell therapy is not yet approved by the FDA. there is also the link which says that your condition could get worse after getting that procedure. What can you say about this? thank you.

  11. Phoebe

    1 year ago

    Hello John,

    First and foremost, we’d like to thank you for your comment and express our deepest sympathies in regards to your limited mobility. Currently, the Lung Institute does not accept traditional insurances like medicare, Medicaid or HMO’s; however, please contact us directly at [phone] and one of our medical staff will walk you through our available treatment options and methods of payment. 

    Although long-distance travel can present a sizeable challenge when living with a chronic lung disease, our dedicated staff is here to guide you every step of the way from booking your flight and hotel, to picking you up and dropping you back off after treatment. Feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149.

    Thanks, John, and we look forward to hearing back from you soon.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  12. john

    1 year ago

    would like cell theraphy but your locations are to far and in.doesnt cover. im on disablity with medacare

  13. Matt

    1 year ago

    Hello Jay,
    Thank you for your post. Hopefully with more time, research can be made so we can understand all the complications of Agent Orange. If you have any other questions, please give us a call at (855) 313-1149. Thanks again and have a great day.

  14. jay edwards

    1 year ago

    I believe my PF was caused by Agent Orange. I’ve asked the VA to open my case, but so far they do not agree. Perhaps if more people approached them, they might reconsider.

All claims made regarding the efficacy of Lung Institute's treatments as they pertain to pulmonary conditions are based solely on anecdotal support collected by Lung Institute. Individual conditions, treatment and outcomes may vary and are not necessarily indicative of future results. Testimonial participation is voluntary. Lung Institute does not pay for or script patient testimonials.

As required by Texas state law, the Lung Institute Dallas Clinic has received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval from MaGil IRB, now Chesapeake IRB, which is fully accredited by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Program (AAHRPP), for research protocols and procedures. The Lung Institute has implemented these IRB approved standards at all of its clinics nationwide. Approval indicates that we follow rigorous standards for ethics, quality, and protections for human research.