How Do COPD Patients Cope With Shortness of Breath?

Medically Reviewed on 5/12/2022
How do COPD patients cope with shortness of breath?
COPD can eventually restrict activities and diminish the quality of life for many people.

Episodes of shortness of breath or breathlessness (medically called dyspnea) occur in individuals with severe, life-limiting conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These episodes may last for a few seconds to hours and occur periodically.

An episode of breathlessness could be predicted if triggers are known, and it becomes highly unpredictable if triggers are unknown.

  • The rate of advancement of COPD differs among people.
  • COPD can eventually restrict activities and diminish the quality of life for many people.
  • Other disorders, such as heart disease, depression, anxiety, and osteoporosis, are frequent among COPD patients and can have an impact on their quality of life.

8 self-management and coping techniques to relieve episodic shortness of breath

  1. 7 exercises to improve shortness of breath
    • Pursed breathing:
      • Pursed-lips breathing may help you manage your breathing at any moment. This helps with ventilation to some extent. It is especially important for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because damaged airways can cause the air to get trapped in the lungs.
      • Inhale slowly through your nose, then purse your lips as if you are about to blow out a candle. When you exhale, imagine blowing out a candle. Blow out for as long as you are comfortable, do not push your lungs to empty.
    • Deep breathing: You must take a deep breath before making any effort and exhale while you are straining yourself. Take a deep breath before you step up, and exhale as you stand up. Experiment with pursing your lips as you blow out the air.
    • Paced breathing: Paced breathing is beneficial while you are active, such as walking or climbing stairs. Your steps are timed to match your breathing. You may perform this breathing technique with pursed-lips breathing and blow as you go. You can keep a count of your steps while you walk or move. Breath in for one step and then breathe out in one or two steps. Experiment with different combinations to see what works best for you, such as two steps in and two steps out.
    • Leaning against the wall: You must lean against the wall and keep your feet at least one foot apart. Relax your hands at your sides and rest your hands or thumbs in the hoops of your waistband or belt. This position will help you recover from shortness of breath and control your breathing.
    • Side-lying with a bent knee on the floor: Lie on your side with cushions beneath your chin. Make sure your neck is supported by the upper pillow. With your upper leg straight, slightly bend the knee of the leg you are resting on.
    • Stand leaning forward: If you feel breathless, then lean forward from the hips and place your arms on a chair or a table or anything at a comfortable height that supports your body.
    • Sit leaning forward: You can sit on a chair and lean forward as you rest your elbows on the chair. Use a pillow to rest your arms and head on a table if you feel more out of breath.
  2. Increase intake of fluids
    • Staying hydrated is highly essential for COPD patients. The condition can thicken the mucus in the lungs, stay together, and make it difficult to cough it out. Drinking enough water can thin the mucus and make it much simpler to eliminate, helping to breathe.
    • The American Lung Association recommended drinking at least six to eight glasses (eight-ounce glass) of water each day for people with COPD.
    • However, consult your doctor about how much water you may safely consume. Some patients with COPD may have medical issues, such as heart failure, that can be exacerbated by too much fluid intake.
  3. Identify and avoid triggers
    • Certain environmental factors, such as dust, mold, and pet dander, may increase COPD symptoms. Though it is difficult to eliminate airborne allergens, limit your exposure to triggers, particularly in your home, to breathe better.
    • Using dustcovers over pillows and keeping dogs out of bedrooms will reduce irritants around you. Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to eliminate dust and other irritants from the air. You can use a dehumidifier to reduce mold in your house.
  4. Be active
    • Regular exercise can significantly improve respiratory capacity and COPD symptoms. Though exercise cannot reverse lung damage, it can assist to:
      • Strengthen respiratory muscles
      • Increase circulation
      • Help you use oxygen more effectively
    • Any physical exercise may induce painful sensations at first, such as shortness of breath, but this is a natural phenomenon that improves over time and practice. However, it is recommended to consult your doctor before beginning any fitness program.
    • Start going for a brief walk every day, which can be an easy and safe way to get started.
  5. Proper sleep
    • A study revealed that there is a strong association between sleep and breathing. Researchers believe that sleep deprivation can impair immunological function and raise inflammation throughout the body, which may influence COPD.
    • COPD may lead to sleep apnea that disrupts a decent night’s sleep. Tiredness due to lack of sleep can impair memory and cannot recall the proper usage of COPD medications.
    • Talk to your doctor about strategies to enhance your sleep if you are having difficulties obtaining at least eight hours of sleep each night.
  6. Healthy food intake
    • Food is essential to complete all bodily functions, including breathing. Getting the appropriate balance of nutrients each day can help relieve shortness of breath while increasing your energy level. Eating a well-balanced diet helps maintain a healthy weight, which is especially essential for those with COPD.
    • Obesity causes your heart and lungs to work harder, making breathing more difficult. Furthermore, the added weight may need more oxygen. In contrast, if you are underweight, you may feel weak and fatigued. You could be more susceptible to potentially fatal lung infections.
    • The optimum diet plan by a registered dietician will be determined by your present body weight and whether you need to shed or gain weight.
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Oxygen therapy
    • If your breathing becomes difficult, oxygen cylinders can assist. With COPD, your lungs do not absorb oxygen as well as they should, preventing it from reaching the rest of your body. This makes it more difficult for your body and organs to function properly.
    • When you utilize greater oxygen, breathing becomes easier and you can perform more during the day.


COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the same as adult-onset asthma. See Answer
Medically Reviewed on 5/12/2022
Image Source: iStock Image

Cleveland Clinic. Coping with COPD.

DiLonardo MJ. 11 Breathing Tips for People With COPD. WebMD.

Simon ST, Weingärtner V, Higginson IJ, et al. "I Can Breathe Again!" Patients' Self-Management Strategies for Episodic Breathlessness in Advanced Disease, Derived From Qualitative Interviews. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2016 Aug;52(2):228-34.