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Self-Help Techniques

Breathing is often easier if the person sits up and leans forward with their arms supported, for example on a table. 

Illustrated image of person coughing lunged at table

Standing and leaning forward can also help. 

Illustrated image of person coughing standing up

Sitting at a table with head resting on pillows or forearms or standing upright, hips and back leaning against a wall may also help.

Illustrated image of person coughing at table with pillow

A fan may also help by blowing cool air onto the face. Similarly sitting by an open window often helps.  

The use of oxygen is not usually required unless specifically recommended by a doctor. In the majority of cases a flow of cool air works just as well.

Breathing control techniques can help patients to regain a sense of mastery over distressing shortness of breath. These simple techniques can be taught by physiotherapists, some Macmillan or lung cancer nurses, palliative medicine or hospice teams or through ‘Breathe Easy’ groups run by the British Lung Foundation.

Breathe Easy Support Groups

Breathlessness can make people anxious. If anxiety is severe it can make the breathlessness worse. In addition to learning breathing control, a light sedative available such as lorazepam or diazepam may help. Relieving anxiety also helps to relieve muscular tension in the chest wall which affects breathing.

Relaxation exercises, self-hypnosis or visualisation are techniques that can also help patients deal with breathlessness – they are often taught by complementary therapists and advice can be obtained from Macmillan nurses, palliative care teams or hospices.