Breathing Problems

Leer esta página en español


When you're short of breath, it's hard or uncomfortable for you to take in the oxygen your body needs. You may feel as if you're not getting enough air. Sometimes mild breathing problems are from a stuffy nose or strenuous exercise.

Many conditions can make you feel short of breath. Lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or pneumonia cause breathing difficulties. Heart disease can make you feel breathless if your heart cannot pump enough blood to supply oxygen to your body and stress caused by anxiety can make it hard for you to breathe.

Several breast cancer treatments may cause breathing problems or shortness of breath:

A number of pain medications, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and opiates also may cause breathing problems.

Managing breathing problems

If you have trouble breathing, talk to your doctor. Since breathing problems can be caused by so many things, it's important to figure out why it's happening to you. If it's because of another condition, such as asthma, your doctor can treat it with medication. If your breathing problems are due to breast cancer treatment, you may be able to switch medicines.

Other tips to breathe easier

Several special breathing techniques can help manage shortness of breath.

Pursed-lip breathing may seem awkward at first, but it helps ease labored breathing:

  • Breathe in through your mouth or nose.
  • Purse your lips (as if you were whistling). Breathe out.
  • Try to exhale until all the air is gone. A good way to do this is to take twice as long to breathe out as you take to breathe in. Count to 4 as you breathe in. Purse your lips and count to 8 as you breathe out.

Positioning helps when you get short of breath while doing something physical, such as climbing stairs. When your muscles are relaxed, breathing is easier.

  • Rest by putting your back to a wall and your feet should width apart. Lean forward and put your hands on your thighs. This position relaxes your chest and shoulders, so they can help you breathe.
  • Use pursed-lip breathing.
  • If you can, sit down with your arms resting on your legs.
  • Continue to use pursed-lip breathing.
  • If you can't lean against a wall, rest your hands or elbows on a piece of furniture or railing just below shoulder height.
  • Relax your neck and rest your head on your forearms.

Paced breathing eases shortness of breath when you walk or lift light objects.

For walking:

  • Stand still and breathe in.
  • Walk a few steps and breathe out.
  • Rest and then begin again.

For lifting:

  • Hold the object, but don't lift it.
  • Breathe in.
  • Lift the object and breathe out.
  • When carrying something, hold it close to your body to save your energy.

If possible, use the muscles you breathe with for only one activity at a time. Don't try to walk and breathe in or lift something and breathe in.

Was this resource helpful?

Yes No
Evergreen-donate
Back to Top