You have shortness of breath, or dyspnea, when you have a hard time breathing. You may notice tightness in your chest, or feel like you're suffocating.
If it's new or can't be explained, call your doctor right away. If your shortness of breath is sudden or intense, or you also have symptoms like chest pain, it could be an emergency. Call 911 or get someone to drive you to the emergency room.
If your breathlessness is not an emergency, you can take steps at home to deal with it. If you've been diagnosed with a condition that causes shortness of breath, make sure to also use any treatments your doctor recommends.
How to Ease Shortness of Breath
You may find some relief with techniques that improve your general health and your breathing:
Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke. If you vape or smoke, quit as soon as possible. Your doctor can help you find ways to make quitting easier. Smoking not only leads to shortness of breath, but increases your risk of lung disease and may shorten your life. Stay away from other people's smoke as well. Also avoid inhaling harsh chemicals as well as things like dust and pollen that can trigger allergies.
Exercise. Over time, working out strengthens your muscles and your lungs. When your muscles get stronger, they need less oxygen and produce less carbon dioxide. This improves your airflow. You’ll eventually be able to handle more activity without feeling out of breath. Exercise can also help you lose weight. That's important because obesity contributes to breathlessness. Check with your doctor to see what activity level is right for you.
Relaxation techniques. Listen to a relaxation app on your phone. Or try progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tighten, then soften, each group of muscles in your body. These techniques help reduce stress, encourage you to breathe slowly and deeply, and distract you from your breathing troubles. They may also help with anxiety, which can cause shortness of breath.
Pursed-lip breathing. This technique slows down your breathing so you don't work as hard for each breath. It also helps you release all the old air in your lungs, which allows more fresh air to come in. To do it, breathe in through your nose for two counts. Then pucker your lips like you're blowing a kiss, and exhale through your mouth for four counts.
Other breathing exercises. Try diaphragmatic breathing. That's when you focus on using your diaphragm (the muscle that separates your chest and abdomen) as you breathe deeply and slowly. Place your hand on your belly as you breathe to feel your diaphragm move.
Try different breathing exercises to find out which one helps you feel better.
Take a break. When you start to feel out of breath as you go about your day, stop and take a break. Relax for a few minutes until you're breathing normally again. Then you can go back to what you were doing
Lean forward. Certain body positions may make it easier for you to breathe. While seated in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees. Relax your neck and shoulders as you breathe in and out. Or, while sitting behind a desk or table, place your folded arms on its surface, then rest your head on your arms. Do this until your breathlessness eases.
Cool off with a fan. Research has found that cool air from a small handheld fan could help you catch your breath. Use it on your cheeks and face until your breathing improves.