How to breathe better?

“For example, some people are more affected in the winter due to the cold temperatures that dry the air passages. Others are more affected in hot, humid weather, due to the heaviness of moisture in the air. And some are more affected when there are rapid changes in temperature and barometric pressure, which can make it difficult to readily adjust,” she says.

1. Adapt to the weather

Although it’s true you can’t change the weather, you can take steps to adapt.

“Taking measures to keep temperature fluctuations as minimal as possible can help,” says Dr. Khatri.

“For instance, if you’re going from hot weather into air conditioning, put on a sweater,” she says. ”When going from heated buildings into cold weather, dress warmly and cover your nose and mouth. The cover will help to warm and humidify the air as you breathe in.”

2. Avoid triggers you can control

In addition to temperature changes, there are other environmental triggers that can make it more difficult to breathe.

If you smoke, take steps to quit. If not, do your best to avoid secondhand smoke and other potential irritants, including:

  • Other types of smoke
  • Fumes
  • Aerosol products
  • Insecticides
  • Cleaning products
  • Mold, dust and mildew

3. Use medications if needed

If you have a chronic lung condition, your doctor can prescribe medications to help you manage weather-related breathing difficulties. Medications commonly prescribed for chronic lung disease include:

  • Bronchodilators
  • Anti-inflammatory agents
  • Oxygen
  • Antibiotics

“In patients with both asthma and COPD, using medications or inhalers regularly that doctors prescribe to control inflammation will render the airways less sensitive to temperature fluctuations,” Dr. Khatri says. “The better you control your disease and inflammation, the more resilient your lungs will be.”

4. Embrace a healthy lifestyle

Once you’ve learned to adjust to changing air quality and avoid irritants, there are things you can do every day to help you breathe easier:

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Commit to a structured exercise program
  • Prevent respiratory infections
  • Control stress

5. Know when to see your doctor

Even though it may seem normal to have more difficulty breathing when weather conditions are extreme, there are times when you should seek medical help.

“In most cases, shortness of breath is not normal,” says Dr. Khatri.

“Any new shortness of breath should be immediately evaluated, as should any shortness of breath that can’t be explained by the cold or flu or by just being ‘out of shape’,” she says. “And if at any point you notice you’re having breathing difficulty that’s interfering with your normal activity, you need to seek medical care to have your symptoms further evaluated.”

30 Ways to Breathe Better

It’s no secret I’m infatuated with the importance of breath. From my daily practice of starting each day with 5 minutes of deep breathing to the HEPA air filter and air purifiers and essential oil air diffusers I have installed my home and office to articles I’ve written about breathing such as How to Breathe The Right Way and How Should You Breathe During And After You Workout? you could say breathing is a physiological function I focus on just about all day long.

In my quest to always become a better breather, I recently read a breathtaking (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) book entitled Breathe by Dr. Belisa Vranich. In the book, Dr. Vranich shows us how breathing the right way can help with stress, illness, and a whole host of issues. As one of the most comprehensive treatises I’ve ever read on breathing, the book contains information on why breathing is so crucial, how to do know if you’re doing it wrong, how to know if you’re doing it right and, of course, plenty of quick and dirty tips on a host of different breathing techniques—all of which you’re about to discover in this episode on 30 ways to breathe better. (Stay tuned at the end of the episode for a bonus exercise from Breathe, which you can only find in the audiobook!).

Let’s delve right into each of these breathing tactics, shall we?

30 Ways To Breathe Better

4-7-8 breathing: An example of a counting breath or breathing isometric, in this technique one inhales quietly through the nose and exhales audibly through the mouth. The tip of your tongue is placed against the ridge of tissue just behind the upper front teeth through the entire exercise. The inhale is completed through the nose for 4 counts, breath is held for 7 counts, and the exhale is completed through your mouth, making a wooshing sound for 8 counts. The cycle is repeated 3 more times.

Belly breathing: Also known as “abdominal breathing” is marked by expansion of the abdomen rather than the upper chest. While the belly breathing taught in this book is exaggerated and important for dismantling bad breathing habits, there being a slight expansion of the middle is important in that it means the diaphragm is moving to expand the middle, where the best part of the lungs are pushing abdominal organs down (which helps with digestion) to create more room in the ribcage for the lungs to expand to their capacity.

Breath walk: Combines distinct patterns of breathing—ratios, intervals, and breath types—that are synchronized with walking steps and meditative attention. Directed breathing and focused attention can be utilized for personal growth, pain control, and relaxation, and are used by many forms of martial arts and athletics.

Buddhist breathing: Buddha quite openly and continually advocated Breath Meditation or Anapanasati, an awareness of the inhaling and exhaling breaths. It starts with an awareness of the ordinary physical breath, which, when cultivated correctly, leads one into higher awareness.

Buteyko breathing: Based on the assumption that numerous medical conditions, especially asthma, are caused by hyperventilation, this breathing technique (breathing slowly through the nose) was developed in the 1950’s by Konstantin Buteyko, a Ukrainian doctor. It purports to break the vicious cycle of rapid, gasping breaths, airway constriction, and wheezing.

Circular breathing: Produces a continuous tone, often used by players of wind instruments. By breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth using air stored in the cheeks, an uninterrupted tone is achieved. It is used extensively in playing many instruments; e.g., the Australian didgeridoo, the Sardinian launeddas, and the Egyptian arghul. A few jazz and classical wind and brass players also utilize some form of circular breathing. Essentially, circular breathing bridges the gap between exhalations. The air stored in the person’s cheeks is used as an extra air reserve to play with while they sneak in a breath through their nose. Bounce breathing is an advanced form of circular breathing.

Clavicle breathing (aka shallow breathing): Clavicle breathing draws air into the chest area by raising the shoulders and collarbone (clavicles). Oxygen reaches only the top third of the lungs; this is the most superficial mode of shallow breathing.

Coherent breathing: Involves breathing at the normal rate of five breaths per minute with an equal inhalation and exhalation. This method claims to facilitate circulation and autonomic nervous system balance by creating a wave in the circulatory system, the “valsalva wave” (a term coined by Stephen Elliott).

Costal breathing (aka lateral breathing): A technique in which inspiration and expiration are produced chiefly by horizontal and lateral movements of the ribs.

Counting breath (breathing isometrics): With the body relaxed, a breathing pattern is maintained. Depth and rhythm may vary. Inhales should last several seconds; exhales are long and slow through your teeth, or with pursed lips, whichever feels more comfortable. When in an isometric exercise position, a regular count should be established, because holding the breath during an exercise is not a good idea – and may even be dangerous.

Diaphragmatic breathing: A type of breathing exercise that promotes more effective aeration of the lungs, consisting of moving the diaphragm downward during inhalation and upwards during exhalation.

Holotropic breathing: Developed by Stanislav Grof as an approach to self-exploration, and healing that integrates insights from Eastern spiritual practices as well as modern consciousness research in transpersonal phycology. The method comprises five components; group process, intensified breathing, evocative music, focused bodywork, and expressive drawing.

Lateral breathing: Focuses on filling your sides and back. The exhale brings the entire middle into the center. It’s sometimes used interchangeably with costal breathing, which is used to deepen the voice and to treat stammering; however, in costal breathing the focus is on the ribcage all the way around the body.

Lung capacity: There are two different measures of lung capacity/ lung breathing capacity: tidal volume, which is the measure of the amount of air that flows in and out of your lungs during normal breathing and tidal breathing is the breathing you do without thinking. And, vital lung capacity, the equivalent of taking a deep breath before going under water or exhaling fully after surfacing. In a clinical setting, doctors measure vital lung capacity with a device called a “spirometer”.

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Breathing Exercises

Why Breathing Exercises Help

When you have healthy lungs, breathing is natural and easy. You breathe in and out with your diaphragm doing about 80 percent of the work to fill your lungs with a mixture of oxygen and other gases, and then to send the waste gas out. Lung HelpLine respiratory therapist Mark Courtney compares the process to a screen door with a spring, opening and shutting on its own. “Our lungs are springy, like the door. Over time, though, with asthma and especially with COPD, our lungs lose that springiness. They don’t return to the same level as when you start breathing, and air gets trapped in our lungs,” Courtney explains.

Over time, stale air builds up, leaving less room for the diaphragm to contract and bring in fresh oxygen. With the diaphragm not working to full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the neck, back and chest for breathing. This translates into lower oxygen levels, and less reserve for exercise and activity. If practiced regularly, breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.

Pursed Lip Breathing

This exercise reduces the number of breaths you take and keeps your airways open longer. More air is able to flow in and out of your lungs so you can be more physically active. To practice it, simply breathe in through your nose and breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth, with pursed lips.

Belly Breathing, aka Diaphragmic Breathing

As with pursed lip breathing, start by breathing in through your nose. Pay attention to how your belly fills up with air. You can put your hands lightly on your stomach, or place a tissue box on it, so you can be aware of your belly rising and falling. Breathe out through your mouth at least two to three times as long as your inhale. Be sure to relax your neck and shoulders as you retrain your diaphragm to take on the work of helping to fill and empty your lungs.

Practice Makes Perfect

Courtney warns that although these exercises seem simple, they take some time to master. “You don’t want to first try these exercises when you’re short of breath,” he says. “You want to try them when you’re breathing OK, and then later on when you’re more comfortable, you can use them when you’re short of breath.” Ideally, you should practice both exercises about 5 to 10 minutes every day.

What Is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program of education and exercise classes that teach you about your lungs and your disease, and how to exercise and be more active with less shortness of breath.

Take a deep breath

Published: May, 2009

Adapted from Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress.

Proper breathing goes by many names. You may have heard it called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, or belly breathing. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and you will notice that your lower belly rises. The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is not limited to a select few. This skill is inborn but often lies dormant. Reawakening it allows you to tap one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.

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Positions to Reduce Shortness of Breath

In conjunction with pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, use these breathing positions to help you reduce shortness of breath.

These positions are helpful when you have shortness of breath during activity, emotional excitement, exposure to adverse weather conditions or when you feel tense and need to relax.

Sitting

  • Rest your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean your chest forward slightly.
  • Rest your elbows on your knees or rest your chin on your hands.
  • Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.

-OR-

  • Rest your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean your chest forward slightly.
  • Rest your arms on a table.
  • Rest your head on your forearms or on some pillows.

Standing

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Lean your hips against a wall.
  • Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Relax your shoulders, leaning forward slightly and dangling your arms in front of you.

-OR-

  • Rest your elbows or hands on a piece on furniture, just below shoulder height.
  • Relax your neck, resting your head on your forearms.
  • Relax your shoulders.

Sleeping

Lie on your side with a pillow between your legs and your head elevated with pillows. Keep your back straight.

-OR-

Lie on your back with your head elevated and your knees bent, with a pillow under your knees.

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Seven home remedies for shortness of breath

When people know what is causing their shortness of breath and it is not a medical emergency, they may want to try treating it at home.

The following exercises can help treat breathlessness at home:

1. Deep breathing

Share on PinterestShortness of breath is known as dyspnea.

Breathing in deeply through the abdomen can help someone manage their breathlessness. To do this at home, they should:

  • lie down, putting their hands on their abdomen
  • breathe in deeply through their nose, expanding their abdomen and letting the lungs fill with air
  • hold their breath for a couple of seconds
  • breathe out slowly through the mouth, emptying their lungs
  • repeat this pattern for 5 to 10 minutes

This exercise can be done several times a day, or as often as the individual experiences shortness of breath. It is best to keep breathing slowly and easily, and deeply rather than quickly.

2. Pursed-lip breathing

Another breathing exercise that can help to relieve shortness of breath is pursed-lip breathing.

Pursed-lip breathing helps to reduce breathlessness by slowing the pace of a person’s breathing. This is particularly useful if shortness of breath is being caused by anxiety.

To try pursed-lip breathing at home, a person should:

  • sit upright in a chair with their shoulders relaxed
  • press their lips together, keeping a gap between them in the middle
  • inhale through their nose for a couple of seconds
  • gently exhale through their pursed lips for a count of four
  • carry on inhaling and exhaling in this way for 10 minutes

People can try this exercise any time they feel short of breath, and repeat it throughout the day until they feel better.

3. Finding a comfortable and supported position

Finding a comfortable and supported position to stand or lie in can help someone relax and catch their breath. If shortness of breath is being caused by anxiety or by over-exertion, this treatment is particularly helpful.

The following positions can relieve pressure on a person’s airways and improve their breathing:

  • sitting forwards in a chair, preferably with the head supported by a table
  • leaning against a wall so the back is supported
  • standing with the hands supported on a table, to take the weight off the feet
  • lying down with the head and knees supported by pillows

4. Using a fan

Research found that using a handheld fan to blow air across the nose and face could reduce the sensation of breathlessness. Feeling the force of air while inhaling made it feel like more air is getting in. The treatment was found to be effective in reducing the sensation of breathlessness

Researchers did not find that the use of a fan actually improved symptoms when they were caused by an underlying condition, however.

There is a selection of handheld fans available for purchase online.

5. Inhaling steam

Inhaling steam can help to keep a person’s nasal passages clear, which can help them breathe more easily. Heat and moisture from steam may also break down mucus in the lungs, which might also reduce breathlessness.

To try steam inhalation at home, a person should:

  • fill a bowl with very hot water
  • add a few drops of peppermint or eucalyptus essential oil
  • place their face over the bowl, with a towel over their head
  • take deep breaths, inhaling the steam

It is important to make sure that the water is left to cool slightly if it has just boiled. Otherwise, the steam could scald the skin.

6. Drinking black coffee

Share on PinterestCoffee may be used as a home remedy to help treat shortness of breath.

Drinking black coffee may help to treat breathlessness, as the caffeine in it can reduce tiredness in the muscles in a person’s airway.

Some research has found that caffeine’s effects slightly improve the way the airway functions in people with asthma. This can be enough to make it easier for them to take in air.

However, it is important to remember that drinking too much coffee can increase a person’s heart rate. It is best to watch caffeine intake when trying this treatment, to make sure not too much is drunk.

7. Eating fresh ginger

Eating fresh ginger, or adding some to hot water as a drink, may help reduce shortness of breath caused by a respiratory infection.

One study has shown that ginger may be effective in fighting the RSV virus, a common cause of respiratory infections.

This information explains how to relieve shortness of breath.

At times, you may have a hard time breathing and feel winded. This is called shortness of breath, or dyspnea. Shortness of breath can be caused by:

  • Lung damage from cancer or cancer treatments.
  • Blood clots in your lungs (pulmonary embolism).
  • Fluid around your heart or lungs.
  • Lung infection (pneumonia).
  • Asthma or emphysema.
  • Heart damage (congestive heart failure).
  • Anemia (low number of red blood cells in your body).

Shortness of breath can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

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Relieving Your Shortness of Breath

The best way to relieve shortness of breath is to treat the cause. But, this may not always be possible. Your doctor and nurse will work with you to figure out the best ways to improve your breathing. Below are other ways to help relieve the symptoms.

General tips

  • Try using a small, handheld fan to blow air at your face if you start to feel winded. This is an immediate way to relieve shortness of breath.
  • In your daily activities, do only as much activity as you can without becoming uncomfortable. If you feel winded, stop and rest until your breathing goes back to how it was when you started. Then, start the activity again, if you can.

Oxygen

Every cell in your body needs oxygen. If you have too little oxygen in your blood, you may feel short of breath. Your doctor or nurse can measure the amount of oxygen in your blood with a small device that’s placed on your finger called a pulse oximeter.

If your blood doesn’t have enough oxygen, breathing in extra oxygen can help you feel better. You can get extra oxygen in 2 ways:

  • With a concentrator. A concentrator is a small machine that takes oxygen from the air and gives it to you through a thin, flexible tube that rests under your nose.
  • Through a prefilled, portable oxygen tank. You can take the tank with you wherever you go. Once the tank runs out of oxygen, it can be refilled. A respiratory or home care company can supply oxygen for you at home, if needed.

Medication

Your doctor may also prescribe medication for your shortness of breath, depending on the cause. You can take these medications by breathing them in, orally (by swallowing them), or intravenously (through a vein).

  • If you have asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, your doctor may prescribe a nebulizer or an inhaler. These are 2 devices that dispense medication as a fine mist that you breathe in. Your nurse will teach you how to use the nebulizer or the inhaler.
  • If there’s a blood clot in your lung, your doctor may prescribe a medication to thin your blood (an anticoagulant). This medication may be a pill or an injection (shot). Your doctor will prescribe blood tests and explain the precautions you must take when you’re taking these medications.
  • If you have pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
  • If there’s too much fluid around your heart or in your lungs, your doctor may prescribe medications such as diuretics (water pills) or diuretic injections to get rid of the fluid.

Other medications that can help improve breathing include:

  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone (Deltasone®) or methylprednisolone (Medrol®)
  • Pain medications such as morphine sulfate (Avinza® or Kadian®)

Your doctor will talk with you about which of these medications is best for you.

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Your nurse can show you how to take deep, slow breaths to help relieve your shortness of breath. You can do this using your diaphragm, which is the muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavity (see Figure 1). This type of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing.

Figure 1. Your diaphragm

Try to relax while doing your breathing exercises. Release any tension in your muscles. This can allow your abdomen (belly), ribs, and lungs to expand.

Here are some other breathing exercises to help relieve your shortness of breath.

Deep breathing 4-8-8

This is an exercise that improves air movement in and out of your lungs. This helps to increase the amount of oxygen in your whole body.

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
  2. Hold your breath for 8 counts.
  3. Breathe out through pursed lips (like when you’re whistling) for 8 counts.
  4. Repeat 4 times.

Chest wall stretch

This exercise helps the muscles in your chest wall be more flexible.

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts. As you’re breathing in, raise your arms straight in front of you, over your head.
  2. Breathe out through pursed lips. As you’re breathing out, turn your palms away from you and lower your arms down to your sides.
  3. Repeat 4 times.

Quick sniffles

This exercise can help strengthen your diaphragm.

  1. Close your mouth.
  2. Breathe in and out of your nose quickly, for 15 to 30 seconds.
  3. Try to do this exercise several times, until you reach 60 seconds.

Walking and breathing

These tips will help you breathe easier while you’re walking.

  • While walking on a flat surface, keep your mouth closed and breathe in and out of your nose.
  • While walking on an incline (hill), breathe in through your nose and breathe out through pursed lips.
  • While climbing stairs, breathe out through pursed lips with each step.

Recovering from an episode of shortness of breath (from coughing or physical activity)

  1. Tilt your chin down to your chest.
  2. Breathe out through your lips in short bursts 10 times. Take short breaths in between, if you need to.
  3. When your neck muscles feel less stressed, breathe in through your nose.
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips 3 times. Take breaths in between.
  5. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
  6. Breathe out through your open mouth, making an “ah” sound, for 8 counts.
  7. Repeat 3 times.

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Other Ways to Improve Breathing

Acupuncture and acupressure can help some people feel less short of breath. Your nurse can refer you to our Integrative Medicine Service for these treatments.

If you’re taking medication or using oxygen, keep taking them along with having acupuncture. Don’t stop taking any prescribed medication without speaking to your doctor first.

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Managing Anxiety

Shortness of breath can be scary. Some people say they start to feel anxious when they’re short of breath. But, anxiety can cause your breathing to become even more difficult.

The breathing exercises in this resource can help you relax. But, you may want to learn other ways to help you manage your anxiety. Speak with your doctor about any anxiety you’re having. They may be able to prescribe anti-anxiety medications, such as alprazolam (Xanax®) or lorazepam (Ativan®), to help.

Our Integrative Medicine Service also offers relaxation programs that may be helpful for you.

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Call Your Doctor or Nurse If You Have:

  • Shortness of breath that isn’t relieved by:
    • Using extra oxygen
    • Taking breathing medications
    • Doing breathing exercises

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