Dyspnea: Ways to Relieve Symptoms

December 18, 2020 by ChestMed Pte Ltd.35

Dyspnea or shortness of breath is an uncomfortable condition characterised by difficulty of fully getting air into the lungs. Lung and heart problems can often cause dyspnea or breathing difficulties.  

Some individuals may experience shortness of breath for short time intervals. Others on the other hand, experience it over the long-term, like several weeks or more. This 2020, shortness of breath or dyspnea has also been associated with COVID-19.

Many people who contract the COVID-19 virus develop only mild symptoms. However, seeking medical attention is recommended if you experience:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Blue lips
  • Mental confusion
  • Breathing trouble

If shortness of breath is not caused by an underlying medical emergency, there are several ways you can relieve the symptoms of dyspnea. Below are some effective ways you can alleviate shortness of breath:

Pursed-Lip Breathing

This is a straightforward way to control dyspnea. Pursed-lip breathing works by quickly slowing your breathing pace. As a result, each breath is deeper and more effective. This strategy also works by releasing any of the air that’s trapped in the lungs especially during strenuous activities like lifting objects, climbing the stairs, or bending.

To perform pursed-lip breathing, do the following:

  • Relax the shoulder and neck muscles.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose for two counts while keeping the mouth closed.
  • Purse the lips as if you are about to whistle.
  • Slowly and gently breathe out through pursed lips to the count of four.

Sitting Forward

When you sit while resting, you can help your body relax. In the process, you can also make breathing easier. 

  • Sit in a chair. Slightly lean your chest forward while sitting in a chair with both feet flat on the floor.
  • Allow the elbows to gently rest on the knees. You can also hold the chin with both hands. Remember to always keep the shoulder and neck muscles relaxed.

Standing with a Supported Back

Standing can also help the body and the airways relax.

  • Stand near a wall while resting your hips on the wall and facing away.
  • Keep the feet shoulder-width apart. Rest the hands on the thighs.
  • Lean forward slightly while keeping the shoulder width apart. Dangle the arms in the front.

Standing with Supported Arms

  • Stand near a sturdy piece of furniture or any other flat surface like a table. Ensure the table or piece of furniture is below the height of the shoulder.
  • Rest the hands or the elbows on the piece of furniture. Keep the neck relaxed.
  • Rest the head on the forearms while keeping the shoulders relaxed at the same time.

Sleeping in a Relaxed Position

Many people experience dyspnea while sleeping. This can cause them to wake up repeatedly. This also diminishes the duration of their sleep and  significantly compromises its quality.

  • Lie on your side with your head elevated by pillows and a pillow between your legs. Ensure the back is kept straight. 
  • You can also lie on your back, with your knees bent and your head elevated. A pillow should also be placed under the knees.

Both positions described above are designed to help the airways and the body relax, making breathing easier. It would also be a good idea to check with your doctor if you have sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea, you might need to use a CPAP machine.

When to Call a Doctor

Get in touch with your doctor right away if:

  • You experience continued or frequent shortness of breath.
  • You keep waking up at night because you have trouble breathing.
  • You experience wheezing or you make a whistling sound each time you breathe.
  • You experience tightness in your throat.

If shortness of breath is accompanied by the following, you should also see your doctor:

  • Swollen ankles and feet
  • Difficulty breathing when lying flat
  • High fever with cough and chills
  • Worsening of dyspnea



ChestMed Pte Ltd.


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