How To Help Yourself At Home During A Shortness Of Breath Attack

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What is shortness of breath?

The medical term for shortness of breath is dyspnea, which is an unpleasant condition that makes it difficult to breathe deeply enough to fill your lungs with air. It can range from mild to severe, and the experience may be frightening and cause anxiety, especially if it is a new symptom.

Fortunately, if it is not a sign of a more serious medical condition, it can often be managed at home, and you should suffer no long-term ill effects.


What are the symptoms of dyspnea?

It is important to note that dyspnea is not actually a medical disorder, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition which may or may not be serious.

Common symptoms of shortness of breath:

  • The most common symptom is the inability to take a deep breath, or catch your breath.
  • Uncomfortable breathing in periods of anxiety.
  • A choking sensation, and a feeling of suffocation.
  • A feeling of tightness or discomfort in the chest area.
  • An asthma attack.
  • A hiatus hernia which puts pressure on the airways.
  • Pregnancy, although dyspnea is a normal occurrence during pregnancy.

The above symptoms do not usually require a trip to the doctor unless they become chronic and cause concern.

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When to see a doctor

There are some causes of shortness of breath which could require emergency medical treatment. Here are the symptoms which, when in conjunction with dyspnea, may indicate a serious health concern.

  • Severe chest pain
  • Fainting or blacking out
  • Light-headedness, and weakness in the arms or legs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath which starts suddenly, and severely constricts your ability to breathe

Any of the above symptoms need urgent medical attention.


Treating shortness of breath at home

If your shortness of breath is not caused by a medical emergency, there are several types of home treatments that can help to relieve the condition:

Here is a list of only seven of the easy exercises you can do at home.

  1. Deep breathing: Breathing in through the abdomen can help ease breathlessness. How to do it: Breathe in deeply through the abdomen, filling the lungs with air, hold for a few seconds, and then breathe out through the mouth. Repeat for about five minutes. This exercise can be done several times a day.
  2. Pursed-lip breathing: This exercise helps to reduce shortness of breath by slowing the pace of a person’s breathing, especially during periods of anxiety. For pursed-lip breathing sit in an upright chair, press your lips together with a small gap in the middle, inhale deeply through the noise, and exhale gently through the lips, repeat for a few minutes. Do this each time you feel short of breath.
  3. Using a fan: Studies have shown using a handheld fan to blow air across the face may lessen the feeling of being breathless. Feeling the sensation of moving air over the face will make it feel that air is getting into the lungs.
  4. Inhaling steam: This method of clearing nasal passages has been used for hundreds of years. It also breaks down mucous in the lungs which makes it easier to breathe, and helps to relieve breathlessness. Fill a bowl with very hot water, add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil, place your face over the bowl, and cover your head with a towel. Take deep breaths to inhale the steam. Allow water which has just boiled to cool slightly, to avoid burning your skin.
  5. Drinking black coffee: If you are an asthma sufferer, you may suddenly become short of breath if the muscles in your airways go into a spasm. Studies have shown that caffeine may help to relax the muscles in the airways, and promote easier breathing. This can improve breathing function for up to four hours.
  6. Sleeping in a relaxed position: Many folk experience breathing problems while they sleep. This often leads to disturbed sleep, as struggling to breathe will wake you up. Sleep researchers have indicated that lying on your side with a pillow between your legs, and your head raised by extra pillows, will keep your back straight and make it easier for you to breathe. If you frequently wake up gasping for breath, visit the doctor to make certain you are not suffering from sleep apnea, which can be a more serious condition.
  7. Lifestyle issues: There are certain lifestyle factors which may increase the severity of dyspnea. These include:
  • Obesity, which sometimes causes fluid to build up in the lungs, putting the heart under strain to clear the lungs of fluid. This can lead to a chronic shortness of breath. Losing weight can easily remedy the situation.
  • Smoking leads to long-term lung damage, which can eventually develop into emphysema, a potentially fatal condition that may require oxygen to help you breathe just to stay alive. Quit smoking, or drastically cut down.
  • A sedentary lifestyle, with a lack of exercise, does not allow the lungs to be completely filled with good, clean air. Get some exercise which will help you to take some deep breaths, opening the airways, and filling the lungs with oxygen that will help to ease any shortness of breath problems.

These are seven easy ways you can practise at any time and as often as you like to help manage any shortness of breath problems you may suffer.


READ ALSO: 12 Special Plants That Will Help You Breathe Easier At Home


If you are concerned about a shortness of breath that will not go away in spite of any efforts you make, it is suggested that you visit your medical doctor for an examination to establish whether there might be an underlying medical reason for the dyspnea.