Coping with an episode of breathlessness

cough older Asian man

An episode of breathlessness can be a sudden flare-up or worsening of your everyday symptoms. It helps if you feel confident to control and overcome the episode.

During an episode of breathlessness:

  • Observe your position. Sit in a chair with your feet spread shoulder-width apart.
  • Place a pillow on a table in front of you.
  • Lean forward, fold your arms and rest your head on them.
  • Practise your controlled breathing and try to relax your arms and shoulders.
  • Stay in this position until you are comfortable that the episode is over.

You may find it more comfortable to stay standing and rest your arms and head on a windowsill. Or you might like to lie on your side, propped up by pillows. You will know what is more comfortable for you. 

If you are out walking when you suddenly become breathless, stop and stand against a wall. Let someone know that you are breathless. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Slump your shoulders forward and relax your arms. Stay in this position until you feel less breathless and able to move to a chair. It may be helpful to record any episodes of breathlessness you experience and let your medical team know at your next appointment. 

What should I or my family do in an emergency?

Make sure that you or your family call an ambulance when:

  • Doing controlled breathing does not improve the situation.
  • Home oxygen does not help.
  • Your breathing appears worse than usual.
  • You become blue in colour, especially around your mouth and nose.
  • Your breathlessness causes you to become drowsy or unconscious.
  • If you suddenly become breathless for the first time.

Remember, you are the best judge of whether your breathing is improving or not. If you are not getting better, contact your doctor straight away.

For more information

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