Various techniques may help relieve breathing, including deep or pursed lip breathing and changing seating position. However, anyone who has severe difficulty breathing will need urgent medical help.

The medical term for shortness of breath is dyspnea. Despite being relatively common, it can be uncomfortable and distressing to experience. People experiencing this may feel that breathing is uncomfortable, shallow, or difficult.

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.

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When people know what is causing their shortness of breath and it is not a medical emergency, they may want to try easing it at home. Many home remedies only have anecdotal backing and are not well-supported by scientific research.

The following exercises can help ease breathlessness at home:

1. Deep breathing

Breathing in deeply through the abdomen can help manage breathlessness. To try deep breathing at home, people can:

  1. Lie down and place the hands on the abdomen.
  2. Breathe in deeply through the nose, expanding the abdomen and letting the lungs fill with air.
  3. Hold the breath for a couple of seconds.
  4. Breathe out slowly through the mouth, emptying the lungs.

While deep breathing exercises are typically safe, performing them incorrectly can pose risks in some cases. 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.

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:

  1. Sit upright in a chair with the shoulders relaxed.
  2. Press the lips together, keeping a small gap between them.
  3. Inhale through the nose for a couple of seconds.
  4. Gently exhale through the pursed lips for a count of four.
  5. Repeat this breathing pattern a few times.

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

Limited research suggests that using a fan to blow air across the nose and face could reduce the sensation of breathlessness.

Feeling the force of air while inhaling may make it feel like more air is entering the body and reduce the sensation of breathlessness. However, research into this remedy is limited, and further direct trials are necessary to investigate its efficacy in treatment fully.

5. Inhaling steam

Many people believe steam inhalation can help ease irritation and thin mucus in the sinuses – allowing for increased airflow. While some may benefit from doing so, primary care studies have not found steam inhalation to be an effective treatment for chronic sinus symptoms.

To try steam inhalation at home, a person can:

  1. Fill a bowl with very hot water.
  2. Add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil.
  3. Position the face over the bowl, and place a towel over the head.
  4. Take deep breaths, inhaling the steam.

People should leave the water to cool slightly if it has just boiled. Otherwise, the steam can scald the skin on the face or respiratory tract.

6. Drinking black coffee

Some people may find that drinking black coffee eases breathlessness.

A possible reason for this is that caffeine intake may relax airway muscles. An old review from 2010 reported that caffeine’s effects slightly improve the way the airway functions in people with asthma. This can be enough to make it easier for them to take in air.

However, a 2020 clinical study found that drinking caffeinated beverages had no discernable benefit in preventing drug-induced shortness of breath.

It is also 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 ensure they do not drink too much.

7. Eating fresh ginger

Eating fresh ginger or adding some to hot water may help reduce shortness of breath due to respiratory infections and asthma.

Limited research suggests ginger or ginger extract can have antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects and may smooth airway muscles in asthma patients. Both mechanisms may tangentially help reduce respiratory symptoms, but research into ginger as a direct dyspnea treatment is lacking.

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:

  • losing weight, if obesity is the cause of breathing problems
  • exercising to improve fitness levels
  • quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoke
  • avoiding allergens and pollutants
  • sticking to treatment plans for any underlying conditions

Some people may experience shortness of breath suddenly and for just a short period. Others may experience it more regularly.

Common causes

Shortness of breath that happens occasionally can be due to:

Underlying conditions

Regular shortness of breath may be due to a more serious condition that affects the heart or lungs.

Underlying conditions that affect the heart and lungs and can cause shortness of breath include:

Acute causes

There are also some causes of acute or sudden shortness of breath that indicate a medical emergency. These include:

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 immediately if they are experiencing sudden, severe shortness of breath or a feeling of pain or tightness in the chest.

Below are frequently asked questions relating to shortness of breath and its remedies.

How do you tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety?

Anxiety typically occurs due to outside triggers; if a person experiences sudden shortness of breath in stressful situations, then anxiety may be the root cause rather than other health conditions.

If shortness of breath occurs alongside other common anxiety symptoms, this may also help a person identify the cause. Common anxiety symptoms include:

Can drinking water help shortness of breath?

Dehydration can impair lung function and affect the mucus lining of the respiratory system – both can make breathing more difficult. Drinking water may not help alleviate acute symptoms, but maintaining adequate hydration may reduce their frequency.

Does shortness of breath cause chest tightness?

People may experience chest tightness alongside shortness of breath. They may also feel lightheaded if they cannot get enough oxygen. These symptoms may not cause each other but can commonly cooccur.

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 ask a doctor for advice.

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