What do I do when I can’t breathe?

Person suffering from shortness of breathMany things can trigger shortness of breath. A short walk, getting out of the car or taking a bath can make breathing hard.

When you are short of breath, don’t panic.

Choose a breathing position and use either the pursed lip breathing or diaphragmatic breathing techniques.

Breathing Positions
  1. Sitting (no Table): Sit in a standard chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back against the back of the chair.  Roll your head forward, relax your shoulders and keep your knees rolled outward.  Rest your arms and hands on your thighs, with your palms facing up or rest our hands on your stomach (Do not lean on your hands.)
  2. Sitting (with table): Pull a chair close to a table.  Sit in the chair with your feet flat on the floor.  Place your elbows and forearms on the table and bend your head slightly forward.
  3. Standing: Stand with your back against a hard surface, such as a wall or pole.  Stand with your feet slightly apart (away from the wall) and relax your head and shoulders.  If this position is too hard for you, try this: face the wall, stand with your feet slightly apart, place your forearms on the wall, then lean on your forearms for support.
Pursed Lip Breathing
  1. Sit or stand comfortably with your back straight as previously discussed in Breathing Positions.
  2. Breathe in (inhale) through your nose as you slowly count to 2. Ex. Like smelling roses.
  3. Purse your lips as if you were going to whistle.
  4. Breathe out gently through your pursed lips as slowly count to 4. (Breathe out twice as slowly as you breathe in.)  Let the air escape naturally.  Don’t force the air out of your lungs. Ex. Like blowing out birthday candles.
  5. Keep doing pursed lip breathing until you are no longer short of breath.
    Here are a couple of videos which may be of help:

    Pursed Lip Breathing
    Pursed Lip Breathing
Diaphragmatic Breathing
  1. Sit or stand comfortably with your back straight as previously discussed in Breathing Positions.
  2. Place your hands on your sides over your lower ribs.
  3. Feel your lower ribs move down as you exhale slowly through pursed lips.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your lower ribs expand.
  5. Rest after 3 or 4 breaths.

    Here is a video which may be of help:

    Diaphragmatic Breathing

Stay in your breathing position for another 5 minutes or until you can breathe easily again.

If you have questions or need assistance in learning these techniques, please consult your doctor or contact a therapist at the Asthma & Lung Center.