Shortness of breath, medically termed as dyspnea, is an unsettling condition where one struggles to breathe fully or comfortably. This common symptom is associated with a myriad of health issues, ranging from mild anxiety to severe cardiac and respiratory diseases. Understanding the exact cause of shortness of breath can be a pivotal step towards finding an effective solution or remedy.
Some common causes include cardiovascular disease, particularly heart failure and coronary artery disease, as these conditions limit the heart’s capacity to pump blood and lead to reduced oxygen supply to the body’s tissues. Additionally, and least surprisingly, respiratory disorders like asthma, COPD, pneumonia, and pulmonary fibrosis can lead to breathlessness as a result of impaired lung function and reduced air flow. As mentioned, anxiety, panic attacks, and other forms of emotional distress often lead to rapid breathing, creating a sense of breathlessness. Anemia, or low iron, caused by a deficiency in red blood cells can lead to inadequate oxygen transport, manifesting as shortness of breath. Lastly, obesity can exert pressure on the lungs and heart, making breathing more laborious and causing a shortness in breath. Be sure to consult a healthcare professional to understand the cause and identify the best course of action for you, but consider these 5 simple treatment techniques that may help improve shortness of breath or offer temporary relief:
1. Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep breathing, is a technique that helps you take in more oxygen and improve your breath control. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, find a comfortable sitting or lying position and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise as you fill your lungs, and exhale slowly through pursed lips, focusing on expelling air from your abdomen. Repeat this deep breathing for several minutes to calm your breath and increase oxygen intake.
2. Paced breathing
Paced breathing involves controlling the rhythm of your breath to reduce feelings of breathlessness. Do this by sitting in a comfortable position and inhaling slowly for a count of 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds, and exhale slowly for a count of 4 seconds. You should gradually increase the count as you become more comfortable with this pattern.
3. Positional changes
Sometimes, changing your position can alleviate shortness of breath. If you’re sitting, consider standing up or walking around gently. If you’re lying down, try elevating your upper body with pillows to reduce chest pressure.
4. Relaxation techniques
Stress and anxiety can exacerbate shortness of breath. Practicing relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and improve your breath control. Options include meditation, practicing mindfulness (being present in the moment), progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, going for a walk, journaling, and so on. Choose whatever brings you a sense of peace and calmness and you will be able to reduce your stress and anxiety, potentially leading to improved control over your breath and alleviate feelings of shortness of breath.
5. Stay hydrated
Dehydration can worsen shortness of breath. Ensure you are adequately hydrated by drinking water throughout the day; however, you should avoid drinking large amounts of fluid right before bedtime to prevent nighttime disruptions.
Remember that while these techniques may provide temporary relief, they do not treat the underlying cause of shortness of breath. If you continue to experience persistent or worsening symptoms, seek medical attention promptly. Identifying and addressing the root cause is essential for long-term improvement in your breathing.