Shortness of Breath

Overview of Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath can be caused from numerous problems and is a very scary feeling. The formal name for shortness of breath is dyspnea. It is typically described as air hunger, severe tightening in the chest, or the feeling of suffocating. Sometimes this is caused by obesity, high altitude, temperatures, or exercise. Aside from these problems, shortness of breath is typically seen as a medical problem. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, then you will want to see your physician as soon as possible.

This may come on suddenly or may happen with activity. Treatment includes taking your rescue inhaler, doing breathing exercises, exercising and sometimes, oxygen.

Shortness of Breath

Pursed-lip breathing helps you slow down your breathing and allow you to take a deeper breath.  You should practice this breathing technique so that when you are breathless you will be able to perform it without having to try to remember how to perform the exercise.

  • Step 1 is to breathe in through your nose and count “One…..two…..”.
  • Step 2 is to breathe out slowly through your mouth with your lips puckered (purse) as if you were blowing bubbles and count “One….two…..three…..four”.
  • Step 3 is to repeat Steps 1 & 2.  After doing these four or five times, your breathing should be slower and you should feel like it is easier for you to breathe.  Breathing in and out slowly is the key to performing this exercise correctly.

If you are having a more productive cough than normal, it is recommended that you perform the Huff Cough.  This technique will help you clear the mucus (or phlegm) out of your lungs.  This method helps prevent you from getting tired out like you do from normal coughing.

  • Step 1 is to do the pursed lip breathing technique 3 or 4 times to slow your breathing.
  • Step 2 is to let your belly push out as you take a slow, deep breath.  Fill your lungs almost all the way.
  • Step 3 is to hold your breath while you count to 4.
  • Step 4 is to tilt your chin up and open your lips.
  • Step 5 is using your belly to push the air out of your lungs in short, quick bursts making a sound like “huh, huh, huh”.

Build up your strength – it may seem strange that we want you to exercise when activity causes you to be short of breath but, if you do not exercise, your muscles become weak which will make the breathlessness even worse.  So you want to start off slow and stop when you become short of breath.  Use your pursed lip breathing technique and when you are able to breathe comfortably, continue your exercise.  Try to do one more repetition or walk one more minute each day so that you gradually build up your strength and muscle mass.  Remember, slow and steady wins the race!  Drink plenty of water before and after you exercise.  If the humidity level is high, exercise inside.  Have an exercise buddy – this helps keep you going and motivated.

Make sure that when you are exercising that you do not hold your breath.  This is a habit that some people develop when picking up items or doing certain activities.  You want to breathe out whenever you are doing the most strenuous part of the activity.  Remember that it is important to try to breathe out twice as long as you breathe in.

Sitting in front of a fan when you have a breathlessness spell may ease the spell and have it not last as long.

What to report to your Pulmonologist regarding your breathlessness:

  1. When did it start?
  2. What makes it better and what makes it worse?
  3. If you have a productive cough, is the amount of sputum/mucus coughed up more or less and has the color or thickness of the sputum/mucus changed and does the sputum/mucus have an odor.

Causes of Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is typically a problem that is associated with the lungs or the heart. Since both of these vital organs transport oxygen to the body, problems with either of these can affect your breathing. Shortness of breath can be broken down into acute or chronic shortness of breath. Some acute causes consist of: asthma, pulmonary embolism, airway obstruction, pneumonia, or any other pulmonary infections. Chronic cases are caused by: asthma, COPD, Obesity, lung disease, etc.

There are many other causes of shortness of breath including: lung cancer, tuberculosis, croup, heart failure, broken ribs, etc. These conditions all make it hard to breathe in enough air.

When to See a Physician about your Shortness of Breath

You will want to see your physician if your condition is getting worse or you begin wheezing. It is also important to see your physician if you are having swelling in your feet, high fever, chills, or sever trouble breathing.

Home Remedies for Shortness of Breath

There are many lifestyle changes that may need to occur in order to stop your breathing from getting worse. If you are a smoker, then you will need to quit smoking immediately. This is harmful for your lungs and your shortness of breath will continue. Creating an action plan with your physician is also important.  This will outline any steps that need to be taken at each level of shortness of breath. If you are aware of the allergen or pollution that causes your shortness of breath, then you will need to avoid them completely. In general, you need to take care of yourself. If you believe that your shortness of breath is due to a weight problem, then you should attempt to lose weight. If you have problems losing weight or quitting smoking, then talk to your physician about what they can do to help you. Keep your appointments with your physician or follow up regularly with your chronic care manager. This will help to prevent exacerbations and you will reduce the risk of being admitted into the hospital.