How to Relieve Shortness of Breath

Updated February 21, 2017

Sufferers describe shortness of breath, known medically as dyspnea, as tightness in the chest or a feeling of suffocation. Causes of dyspnea include asthma, heart attack, pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer. Anemia is a condition where the red blood cells do not transport enough from the lungs. This may cause a person to feel as if he is not breathing in enough air, even though there is nothing functionally wrong with his lungs. Methods for relieving shortness of breath depend on the specific disease causing the dyspnea. The patient may use them alone or together.

Use concentrated oxygen sources to help raise blood gas levels. Decreased lung function due to severe infection or lung cancer makes it more difficult for the body to absorb sufficient oxygen from normal air. A nose tube connected to an oxygen tank or oxygen concentrator provides the patient with more oxygen than is commonly available in the air.

Take prescription medications to relieve symptoms. Asthma sufferers take medication to open constricted airways. Most commonly this medication is administered as a fine mist the patent inhales directly into the lungs. Fluid build-up around the heart and lungs requires a water pill to help the body remove the excess fluid. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and other lung infections require antibiotics to help clear the lungs and restore normal breathing.

Reduce stress and anxiety. Anxiety is both a cause and a symptom of dyspnea. Suddenly becoming short of breath may cause a patient to become anxious. The anxiety in turn causes a tightening of muscles in the chest, making it even more difficult to breathe. In addition, worrying about a possible attack can cause dyspnea-like symptoms. Stay relaxed throughout the day. If an attack of dyspnea starts, remain calm and follow your doctor's instructions for treatment.

Perform breathing exercises as instructed by your physician or respiratory therapist. Breathing exercises help to strengthen the diaphragm, the muscle used to move air in and out of the lungs. These exercises require you to breathe in slowly, hold the breath and breathe out slowly. These exercises help train you to control your breathing.

Adjust your living environment to be more conducive to easy breathing. Maintain a smoke-free, dust-free, low-humidity environment. Install and change air filters frequently. A fan blowing on your face may help reduce the feeling of breathlessness. Elevate the head of your bed to allow for easier breathing while sleeping. Purchasing mobility aids, such as a wheelchair or walker, may ease exertion.


Report any shortness of breath to your physician. If you are experiencing shortness of breath accompanied by chest pains, seek emergency medical help immediately as this may be a sign of heart attack.

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About the Author

Transplanted Yankee Erin Watson-Price lives in Birmingham, Ala., and has been writing freelance articles since 1997. She worked as writer/co-editor for Coast to Coast Dachshund Rescue's newsletter, "The Long and the Short of It." In 2007 she obtained a certification as a copy editor. Watson-Price holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.