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Shortness of Breath

Difficulty breathing or breathlessness, can be a frightening and debilitating symptom but it can often be improved with treatment. It is important to discuss any feelings of breathlessness with your doctor. 

Pain can reduce your ability to take deep breaths and to cough. As a result, secretions may gather in your chest and this can increase your breathlessness. Good pain control is helpful in managing breathlessness. 

John helping his breathing using a handheld fan
Tips for managing breathlessness 
  • Sit down to carry out everyday tasks like washing, dressing and preparing food. 
  • Cool air blowing directly onto or across your face can help you breathe more easily. Try sitting by an open window or using a small handheld fan. 
  • Arrange your kitchen with frequently used items stored at waist-height, rather than having to bend or stretch to reach cupboards and shelves. 
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes, especially around your waist and chest. Sit down when dressing and bring your feet up to put on socks, tights and shoes, as bending can make you breathless. Slip-on shoes are easier to get on and off than shoes with laces. 
  • Using a telephone extension cord or a cordless or mobile phone, will mean that you don’t have to rush to answer a call. 
  • A baby monitor is a good way of talking to someone in another room without having to shout or get up, especially at night. 
  • Concentrate on your OUT breath – slow sighs. This is more helpful and effective than emphasising taking breaths in and easier to do 
Controlled breathing and relaxation 

Breathlessness can cause you to breathe with your upper chest and shoulders in a rapid and shallow way. This can use up a lot of energy and tire you out. Learning a technique called controlled breathing can help you to relax and breathe gently and more effectively using your lower chest and tummy muscles. A physiotherapist or specialist nurse can teach you these techniques. Being breathless can cause you to feel anxious, frustrated and panicky. These emotions can cause rapid, shallow breathing, which can make you even more breathless. Understanding your emotional responses to breathlessness and learning to control them can help you manage your condition. Relaxation techniques can help you control anxiety and improve breathlessness. 

To find out more about Breathlessness Management click here 

To get support with your breathlessness, watch our breathlessness management technique videos


If you have an urgent enquiry for our medical and nursing teams (which may be for help and advice) please phone 01892 820515.  This phone number is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.