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10 Tips To Manage Shortness of Breath

Managing Shortness of Breath in COPD


Updated April 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

One of the most troublesome symptoms of COPD is dyspnea, commonly referred to as shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath often worsens, interfering with activities of daily living and overall quality of life. Although medications help to some degree, better breathing with COPD requires a comprehensive approach to its management that includes the following 10 tips:

1. Quit Smoking

quitting smoking
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com, user Stepan Popov

Better breathing starts with smoking cessation. Quitting smoking is the best way to slow the progression of the disease, improve your survival and help you breathe easier. Studies have shown that lung function decline in COPD can actually normalize once someone quits. Have you had your last cigarette?


2. Take Your Meds

COPD medications
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From bronchodilators to corticosteroids, many COPD medications are designed to improve your breathing and help you make it through the day more comfortably. That's why they remain the backbone of COPD treatment.

3. Get More Sleep

Sleep and COPD
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com, user an alien

When you're tired, everything becomes more difficult, including breathing. Getting the rest you need is vitally important to your health and your overall well-being. It will even give you more energy to breathe.

4. Avoid Airway Irritants

Air pollution and COPD
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COPD is primarily caused by long-term exposure to airway irritants. It is no surprise, then, that once diagnosed, further exposure could make COPD worse and breathing even more difficult. The moral of the story: clean up your air and breathe better.

5. Get Your Pulmonary Rehab On

Pulmonary Rehab
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Pulmonary rehabilitation is the gold-standard of treatment for COPD patients who are in the moderate to very severe stages of COPD. Not only does pulmonary rehab improve survival in people with COPD, but it has many other benefits as well.


6. Use Oxygen If You Need To

Oxygen Therapy
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For most people, the air we breathe is sufficient. But for people with COPD, whose lung function is impaired, the amount of oxygen that is obtained through normal breathing is sometimes not enough. If you have COPD, talk to your healthcare provider about using oxygen to improve your breathing -- and your survival.

7. Practice Breathing and Airway Clearance Techniques

Breathing Exercises
Photo courtesy of flicker.com, user Dada Abhijit

The pooling of mucus in the lungs is one of the reasons people with COPd feel short of breath. In addition, chronic inflammation and irritation narrow the airways. Breathing techniques can help you minimize the perception of dyspnea, while airway clearance techniques will help you rid your lungs of mucus. Combine the two for optimal effect.


8. Eat Better

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

Did you know that some people with COPD require as much as 10 times more calories just to breathe? Eating right can benefit your overall health, and your breathing.

9. Don't Forget Your Antioxidant Vitamins

Antioxidants and COPD
Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Tim Graham

Studies suggest that a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins like D, E, C and A actually improves lung function in people who have COPD. And it has many other important health benefits as well. Have you taken your vitamins today?

10. Consider Lung Surgery

Lung Surgery
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Lung surgery is a viable option for people in the very-severe stages of the disease who meet very specific criteria. While it may not improve long-term survival, it may help improve your quality of life and help you better manage shortness of breath.

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