10 Tips to Decrease Breathlessness at Home
As a respiratory therapist, I see people every day with lung conditions like COPD, bronchiectasis, asthma and pulmonary fibrosis that just want to be able to breathe better. Physicians typically will refer a patient to our pulmonary rehab after the discussion during the office visit was focused on more breathlessness at home. Unfortunately, more breathlessness at home leads to a more sedentary lifestyle which then leads eventually to even more breathlessness. It’s a cycle that most people with lung conditions battle every day to break. There’s no doubt that the “struggle is real.” However, I have a few tips that I think that will prove to be very helpful in decreasing your breathlessness which should help to improve your activity as well as productivity at home. After all repeated occurrences of extreme shortness of breath can really deplete a person’s energy level.
Here are 10 Tips to Decrease Breathlessness at Home
1. Utilize Breathing Techniques– Teaching breathing techniques like pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and deep breathing is a cornerstone to pulmonary rehab. It’s not just learning the technique but learning when to apply them. After all, we are all mammals and what do mammals do when short of breath or tired…. Pant. Utilizing breathing techniques during activity takes effort as it isn’t a natural way of breathing, but hopefully if implemented correctly, it will help you get through the activity with less breathlessness (maybe actually allowing you to complete a task). Use the techniques when bending over, climbing a set of stairs, bathing, or carrying anything. For more information on how to perform these breathing techniques check out my blog on The INs and OUTs of Breathing Techniques.
2. Use Your Inhaler– Some of my patients tell me that they can tell what kind of day they are going to have as soon as they get up in the morning. It may be their uncanny way of weather predicting or how they slept the night before, yet they have the ability to feel how their breathing may be impacted and thus start pre-treating their breathlessness right away. For many people though, we have to rely on past experience and if you are about to do activity that may cause you breathlessness, go ahead and use your rescue inhaler ahead of time. When you use it in advance you have a higher probability of getting a “quality treatment” versus struggling to take a deep breath and using your inhaler. Also, using it in advance of the activity may help you to get through the activity with less breathlessness and may also help you to recover faster if you should get short of breath. Blogger’s Note: If you are finding that you need to use your rescue inhaler more frequently than four times a day… see your physician.
3. Wear Your Oxygen– If you have been prescribed oxygen at home, wear it as prescribed. Don’t try to get through a task (no matter how small) without wearing your oxygen. This includes short trips to the kitchen for snacks and drinks or quick trips to the bathroom. As mentioned above, the recovery from breathlessness takes a toll on your energy stores so why not avoid wasting excess energy and wear your oxygen. Blogger’s Note: Don’t forget to wear your oxygen while bathing.
4. Pace Yourself– One of the key mistakes people with lung conditions make is “hurrying through an activity before the breathlessness catches up with them.” If you pace yourself and take your time, you will be able to complete the activity with less breathlessness and less time recovering from it. This technique helps you to avoid the anxiety and stress associated with rushing. If you have plans to leave your home, get up early enough to take your time getting ready. Don’t wait until the last minute to accomplish a task. Blogger’s note: put emphasis on your endurance training when you are exercising. This training will translate to having more energy to comfortably finish a task at home all the while pacing yourself.
5. Sit in a supportive position– For many people with chronic lung conditions, sitting in a supportive position will help alleviate shortness of breath. For instance, sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your knees and lean forward slightly. Utilize breathing techniques to help you recover from your breathlessness. Or you can sit in a chair at a table with your feet flat on the floor. Place your forearms or elbows on the table, leaning forward slightly and then use your breathing techniques. Both of these positions will put your body in proper alignment to breathe more comfortably.
6. Turn down your thermostat– We keep the air in our pulmonary rehab 68 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. For most people, this temperature might seem pretty chilly, however it is a great temp for lung patients to breathe in while they are exerting themselves. Now I am NOT suggesting that you need that exact temperature in your own home, yet you may benefit and breathe more comfortably if your house was a little on the cooler side.
7. Use a fan– There has been research that shows that if you use a handheld or small fan to blow air across the nose and face, it may help you to recover from your breathlessness faster. This technique was first mentioned to me by a patient. I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of it, so I did some research on it and found there had actually been studies on this technique! Keep in mind, I would describe this technique as a “quick fix” for getting your breath back and really doesn’t fix the overall reason why the breathlessness occurred.
8. Decrease Triggers– If your breathlessness is often brought on by environmental triggers, the best thing to do is eliminate those triggers or try to decrease them in your home. Avoid using products that have perfumes or strong odors. Dust and clean often to eliminate allergens to dust and mold. Keep your windows shut to avoid outside triggers from coming in. Ask family and friends to limit perfumes and fragrances when visiting. Blogger’s Tip – When cleaning your home, wear a light weight mask to avoid inhaling any triggers that could cause shortness of breath.
9. Quit smoking– I am figuring if you are reading my blog right now, that you know that smoking is doing nothing to help your lung condition. I am well aware that it truly is an addiction and stopping is incredibly hard. I try very hard with my own pulmonary patients not to make them feel bad for continuing to smoke, yet the health effects are horrible. By continuing to smoke, you are negating all the wonderful benefits that your breathing meds have on your lungs. If you are a current smoker, continue your quest to quit smoking. Even if it takes 50 attempts, if on your 51styou are successful… you can begin to feel your best. Also, don’t allow anyone to smoke around you or in your home. I have had patients whose spouse claims to only smoke in one room of the house, yet it is important to know that the toxins from smoke get into areas like the textiles and ventilation system in your home and car. Do your best to avoid them to protect your lungs.
10. Rest or meditate– In order to manage your everyday breathlessness, you must get proper rest. It takes more energy to breathe when you have a lung condition therefore getting enough rest can really affect how you feel. Allow yourself time (if possible) to lay down or climb in a recliner for a short nap. If you aren’t a “napper” put on some relaxing music or sounds and close your eyes and allow your body and mind to rest. These periods of relaxation will fill your tank with more energy to continue on with your day.
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