Managing breathlessness

There are several conditions that cause lung problems, which in turn, may cause you to experience shortness of breath (or breathlessness). Whatever your illness, experiencing breathlessness can make you panic, feel anxious or frightened, and be upsetting and frightening for your loved ones.

Many daily tasks can make you breathless, such as walking, getting dressed or doing jobs around the house. Your environment and the weather can also be a factor, as well as how you feel emotionally. When you learn to control your breathing, these feelings will not trouble you as much, and you can do more.

If your breathlessness worsens quickly or you have pain when you breathe, contact your GP immediately. If you cannot speak to your doctor and your breathlessness worsens, go to your nearest Accident and Emergency hospital immediately.

Things you can do yourself

Our Physiotherapists are highly skilled and experienced in finding the best way to help you to manage any breathlessness you may experience, and have put together some short films to help you.

Meet two of our Physiotherapists, Laura and Tasha, who talk you through some ways you can manage shortness of breath, including positioning and exercises to help with breathlessness and what to do if you feel panic because of your breathlessness.

You can also watch this very short routine for stretching the neck and shoulders, which can reduce the tension, stiffness and pain you may experience when suffering from shortness of breath.

Other resources for managing breathlessness

We’re very grateful to the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care for their resources – a series of information leaflets giving details of positions, exercises and strategies to help you manage any shortness of breath that you may experience.

How to cope with shortness of breath – positions

How you position yourself can have a significant bearing on managing your breathlessness. It’s essential to choose a position which suits what you are doing and where you are, it’s essential to relax.

Depending on your condition, some of the positions discussed in the leaflet will work better than others. Also, it’s important to remember to take regular rests so you do not tire yourself out more.

Positions covered:

  • Sitting leaning forward
  • Sitting leaning forward at a table
  • Sitting upright
  • High side lying
  • Standing leaning forward
  • Standing leaning back or sideways

You can download the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care’s Positions full leaflet.

How to cope with shortness of breath – breathing exercises

Many daily tasks, such as walking, getting dressed, climbing stairs, or working around the house, can make you breathless.

Being breathless can make you panic or feel frightened. Do not hold your breath when you do any of these things. This will make you feel short of breath.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid doing things that make you breathless. Using the exercises in this leaflet instead, it will help you to control your breathing. When you learn to manage your breathing, these feelings will not trouble you as much, and you can do more.

You will find some breathing exercises are more helpful to you than others, and different ones work better in different situations. If you become breathless during daily tasks, you may find techniques for Energy Conservation practical to make daily tasks easier.

This leaflet covers the following:

  • Breathing Control and how to do it
  • Relaxed Slow Deep Breathing and how to do it
  • Pursed-lips breathing and how to do it
  • Blow-as-you-go technique and how to do it
  • Paced Breathing and how to do it
  • When should I do my breathing exercises?

You can download the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care’s Exercises full leaflet.

The active cycle of breathing techniques

People with lung problems often cough and produce more phlegm (sputum) than is usual. It is vital to remove sputum from your lungs to help you breathe more easily, prevent chest infections and reduce bouts of coughing. Leaving sputum in your chest can make your condition worse.

The Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) is one way to help clear sputum from your chest. ACBT is a three-phase set of breathing exercises that loosens and moves the sputum from your airways. It is best to be taught ACBT by a physiotherapist.

The ACBT exercises are breathing control, deep breathing and huffing, which are performed in a cycle until your chest feels clear. This leaflet answers questions such as:

  • How often do I need to do ACBT?
  • When should I do my breathing exercises?
  • How long should I do ACBT for?
  • What position should I do ACBT in?

You can download the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care’s ACBT full leaflet.

Thank you also to the NHS University Hospitals Plymouth Physiotherapy Team who have produced this great short video explaining the three phases of the Active Cycle Breathing Technique (ACBT).

Energy conservation

Energy conservation is conserving (saving) your energy. It means finding the easiest way of doing the everyday tasks you have to do so that you have some energy left over to do the things you want.

It is important to remember that conserving energy is not about avoiding exercise. Energy conservation is about making everyday tasks easier, allowing you to have some energy left for exercise. Training is essential to increase your fitness and improve your health.

This leaflet covers these questions:

  • How do I conserve energy?
  • How do I plan ahead?
  • How do I pace myself to conserve energy?
  • Why should I sit during tasks and activities?
  • How can I minimise arm movements?
  • How do I avoid bending, reaching, twisting?
  • How do I use good body mechanics?

You can download the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care’s Energy Conservation Leaflet.

Patient information leaflets

You can find ALL the latest Patient Information Leaflets by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care available to download from their website.

© Copyright 2023 - Cornwall Hospice Care is a Registered Charity Number 1113140.
Registered address: Porthpean Road, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 6AB. Registered in England and Wales; Company Number 5660401 - Web Design by The Ambitions Agency