Shortness of breath, or breathlessness, occurs when a person has difficulty taking in enough air to breathe. It can range from mild to severe.
The medical term for shortness of breath is dyspnea. Despite being relatively common, it can be uncomfortable and distressing to experience.
That being said, when it is not a symptom of a more serious condition, it is usually possible to manage it at home.
This article will explore some remedies for shortness of breath that people can try at home. It will also look at the symptoms and causes of breathlessness and when to see a doctor.
When a person knows what is causing their shortness of breath and it is not a medical emergency, they may want to try easing it at home.
The following exercises can help ease breathlessness at home:
1. Deep breathing
Breathing in deeply through the abdomen can help someone manage their breathlessness. To try deep breathing at home, people can:
- Lie down and place the hands on the abdomen.
- Breathe in deeply through the nose, expanding the abdomen and letting the lungs fill with air.
- Hold the breath for a couple of seconds.
- Breathe out slowly through the mouth, emptying the lungs.
People can do this exercise several times per day or as often as they experience shortness of breath. It is best to keep breathing slowly, easily, and deeply rather than quickly.
People can also try other types of deep breathing exercise, such as diaphragmatic breathing.
That said, the quality of evidence behind deep breathing exercises for shortness of breath is limited, and research is ongoing.
There are also some risks associated with performing deep breathing exercises incorrectly. Indeed, research suggests that when a person performs them incorrectly, these exercises can be more harmful than helpful.
For example, in some people with severe chronic respiratory conditions, deep breathing exercises can lead to hyperinflation, which occurs when an increase in lung volume prevents efficient airflow in the body.
Other risks include reduced strength of the diaphragm and increased shortness of breath.
If possible, perform these exercises with the help of a trained medical professional to reduce potential risks.
2. Pursed lip breathing
Another breathing exercise that can help relieve shortness of breath is pursed lip breathing.
Pursed lip breathing helps reduce breathlessness by slowing the pace of a person’s breathing. This is particularly useful if shortness of breath is due to anxiety.
To try pursed lip breathing at home, people can:
- Sit upright in a chair with the shoulders relaxed.
- Press the lips together, keeping a small gap between them.
- Inhale through the nose for a couple of seconds.
- Gently exhale through the pursed lips for a count of four.
- Repeat this breathing pattern a few times.
People can try this exercise whenever they feel short of breath, and they can repeat it throughout the day until they feel better.
It is important to note that the quality and strength of the research into pursed lip breathing is very limited. Research into its effectiveness is ongoing.
3. Finding a comfortable and supported position
Finding a comfortable and supported position to stand or lie in can help someone relax and catch their breath. If shortness of breath is due to anxiety or overexertion, this remedy is particularly helpful.
The following positions can relieve pressure on a person’s airways and improve their breathing:
- sitting forward in a chair, preferably using a table to support the head
- leaning against a wall so that the back is supported
- standing with the hands supported on a table, to take the weight off the feet
- lying down with the head and knees supported by pillows
4. Using a fan
A study from 2010 reports that using a handheld fan to blow air across the nose and face could reduce the sensation of breathlessness.
Feeling the force of air while inhaling can make it feel as though more air is entering the body. Therefore, this remedy may be effective in reducing the sensation of breathlessness.
The use of a fan may not improve symptoms that occur due to an underlying medical condition, however.
In another study, the researchers did not find any clear benefit from using fan therapy, though it did appear to help some groups.
More work is necessary to determine who might benefit from this remedy.
5. Inhaling steam
Inhaling steam can help keep a person’s nasal passages clear, which can help them breathe more easily. Heat and moisture from steam may also break down mucus in the lungs, which might also reduce breathlessness.
To try steam inhalation at home, a person can:
- Fill a bowl with very hot water.
- Add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil.
- Position the face over the bowl, and place a towel over the head.
- Take deep breaths, inhaling the steam.
People should leave the water to cool slightly if it has just boiled. Otherwise, the steam could scald the skin on the face.
6. Drinking black coffee
Drinking black coffee may help ease breathlessness, as the caffeine in it can reduce tightness in the muscles in a person’s airway.
However, it is important to remember that drinking too much coffee can increase a person’s heart rate. People should watch their caffeine intake when trying this remedy to make sure that they do not drink too much.
7. Eating fresh ginger
Eating fresh ginger, or adding some to hot water as a drink, may help reduce shortness of breath that occurs due to a respiratory infection.
Depending on the cause of the breathlessness, there may be some changes that a person can make to their lifestyle to avoid their triggers and ease their symptoms.
These changes include:
Some people may experience shortness of breath suddenly and for just a short period of time. Others may experience it more regularly.
Shortness of breath that occurs regularly may have a common cause or be the result of a more serious underlying condition.
Shortness of breath that occurs suddenly might mean that the person needs emergency treatment.
The sections below will explore the different causes of shortness of breath in more detail.
Shortness of breath that happens occasionally can be due to:
- overweight or obesity
- exposure to allergens or pollutants in the air
- extreme temperatures
- strenuous exercise
Regular shortness of breath may be due to a more serious condition that affects the heart or lungs.
The heart and lungs help carry oxygen around the body and get rid of carbon dioxide. Because of this, conditions that affect how they function can also affect a person’s breathing.
Underlying conditions that affect the heart and lungs and can cause shortness of breath include:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- abnormal heart function
- lung cancer
- lung conditions such as pleurisy or tuberculosis
There are also some causes of acute, or sudden, shortness of breath that indicate a medical emergency. These include:
Dyspnea is the medical term for shortness of breath. People experiencing this may feel that taking a breath is uncomfortable, shallow, or difficult.
People may also experience chest tightness linked to shortness of breath. They may feel lightheaded if they are unable to get enough oxygen into their lungs.
If these symptoms last for longer than a month, the person may have chronic dyspnea.
Some people experience mild shortness of breath regularly and may receive a diagnosis from a doctor. If a doctor has already diagnosed the cause, trying one of the home remedies above can be a safe course of action.
When someone experiences shortness of breath for the first time without knowing why, however, they should speak to a doctor. Only a doctor can provide a proper diagnosis.
In some cases, shortness of breath is a cause for immediate concern. A person should seek medical attention straight away if they are experiencing sudden, severe shortness of breath or a feeling of pain or tightness in the chest.
Experiencing shortness of breath can be unsettling. Various home remedies can help, including breathing exercises, certain positions, and inhaling steam.
If a person is concerned about shortness of breath or does not know the cause, they should speak to a doctor for advice.