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Minimizing Shortness of Breath

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We don’t always know the proper way to breathe by instinct, especially if we start to suffer from a respiratory disease. Most of us are completely unconscious of our breathing until there is a problem. Difficulty breathing can then become a focus in our daily routine and begin to limit our daily activities.


Increase Awareness

Occupational therapists find that shortness of breath is one of the main complaints of those who suffer from COPD and other lung diseases. One of the first steps for patients is to increase their awareness and help them recognize symptoms of shortness of breath more quickly. Additional symptoms to be aware of include chest tightness, fatigue and hyperventilation as well as factors like emotional stress, overexertion, habitual postures and exposure to environmental irritants.

Pursed-Lip Breathing

One focus of occupational therapy is to teach pursed-lip breathing. This is one very effective technique that, if used properly, can decrease shortness of breath. 

Pursed-lip breathing involves breathing in through your nose and then breathing out through your mouth as if you were trying to whistle. Breathe the air out slowly, do not force it out. This technique helps to slow down your breathing rate and creates a back pressure which helps the lungs’ airways to remain open.

An emphasis is also placed on proper use of the abdominal muscles to better control episodes of shortness of breath, limit overuse of the accessory muscles and manage respiratory symptoms.  

Monitor Breathing

During an activity, it is important to pause frequently to check if you are becoming short of breath. This will also assist you in increasing your breathing awareness. If breathing does become fast or shallow, you need to stop the activity and focus on getting the breath back into a comfortable pattern before continuing the task. If you do become short of breath while going about your daily activities, then you need to use a recovery breathing technique. 

Recovery breathing technique:
1. Stop and rest
2. Relax your body
3. Use the pursed-lip breathing technique

breathing techniqueIf you find that you continually become short of breath during your daily routine, ask your doctor to see an occupational therapist for pulmonary rehablitation. You will learn to increase your awareness and coordinate your breathing with activities. You will also learn breathing, relaxation and energy conservation techniques. In short, you will gain breathing skills for the job of living.

Learn about ways to minimize shortness of breath while eating.

This information has been approved by Shelby Jenkins, OTR and Chelsea Randall, MS, OTR/L (May 2012).