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There are few experiences more frightening than feeling like you can’t breathe. Shortness of breath (dyspnea) is a common symptom if you have a chronic lung condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In some cases, shortness of breath can worsen into an exacerbation that requires medical care.

It’s common to experience feelings of anxiety and panic when you start becoming breathless. Unfortunately, anxiety can cause you to hyperventilate, which causes increased breathlessness and more anxiety. This vicious trap is called the “dyspnea-anxiety-dyspnea” cycle

During my years as a registered nurse, I’ve helped many patients practice techniques to help break the dyspnea-anxiety-dyspnea cycle. Here, I’ll outline actions you can take to self-manage shortness of breath at home, and also when you should seek medical help. 

Relaxation Techniques to Control Breathlessness

If your shortness of breath isn’t a medical emergency, try some relaxation techniques to get your breathing back under control. Slow, deep breathing is one of the most effective methods you can use to calm your nervous system and reduce anxiety. Deep breathing increases the oxygen supply in your brain, which signals your nervous system to slow down your heart rate and blood pressure. It stimulates your body’s natural relaxation response and allows you to bring awareness back to your body and breath. Pursed-lip breathing and abdominal breathing are 2 breathing exercises to practice when you feel breathless. Both of these techniques can help you take in more air, and release air trapped in the lungs.

You can also sit or stand in supported postures to help your body relax. For example, sit in a chair and rest your arms and head on a table, or stand with your back against a wall.

Medications to Control Breathlessness

Don’t wait until you are severely short of breath before using a rescue inhaler or supplemental oxygen. If you have tried breathing exercises and relaxing postures without success, then use your rescue inhaler as indicated. The purpose of a rescue inhaler is to relax your airways and prevent your symptoms from worsening into an exacerbation that requires medical attention. 

When to See a Doctor

If you can’t control your breathlessness through breathing exercises, relaxing postures or rescue medications, it’s time for you to seek medical care. If you are having a flare-up, getting help as soon as possible reduces your risk of developing complications or experiencing a decline in your condition. 

If you experience any of the following symptoms along with shortness of breath, call your doctor or 911 right away:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Loss of ability to function normally
  • High fever and chills
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Blue lips or fingertips
  • Wheezing or stridor
  • Worsening shortness of breath that is not responsive to a rescue inhaler

Cellular Therapy Can Help Treat COPD

If you have COPD, cellular therapy may be the next treatment step for you. During cellular therapy, our clinicians at Lung Health Institute will take a small venous blood draw. We transfer the blood to our lab and separate and isolate platelet-rich plasma-platelet concentrate (PRP-PC). The concentrated blood is then returned to you via an IV. Once PRP-PC reaches the lungs, it has the potential to reduce airway inflammation. Reduced inflammation may decrease symptoms like shortness of breath and help you Breathe Easier™. 

If you are interested in learning more about cellular therapy or scheduling a free consultation, contact a Lung Health Institute patient coordinator today.

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