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*UPDATED* Hospital visiting changes, home testing kits, Vaccine info, general info and guidance for public, NHSGGC staff, and community-based services.

Breathing Easier

After an illness you may find you have difficulty catching your breath and feel short of breath more easily. This is called breathlessness. It is a common problem if you have had coronavirus, even if you have not attended a hospital. It is also a normal feeling which happens as a result of exercise or a change in the temperature or humidity of the air around you. This can be a scary feeling but there are several things you can do to reduce this feeling.

Positions to ease breathlessness
Using a different position will allow your breathing muscles to work better and help you to feel less short of breath. You might find one position works best for you. Feelings of panic will often make your breathlessness worse so trying to relax in your preferred position will also help. 

You can find more information here.

(Reproduced with permission from the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care).

Lying on your front (prone lying) can help reduce breathlessness if you are recovering from coronavirus. Adding pillows under your chest or pelvis may make this position more comfortable. Only use this position if you feel comfortable and it helps your breathing.

Techniques to reduce breathlessness

Breathing control

Sit in a relaxed position in a chair with your back well supported. Place one hand on your tummy. Slowly take a deep breath in through your nose. As you breathe in, allow your tummy to rise up and then feel it relax down as you breathe out slowly. This may take some practice but can be very useful to help reduce breathlessness.

Pursed lip breathing

This can be useful to control breathlessness when you are walking or being more active. Take a breath in through your nose then gently breathe out through your mouth with your lips pursed, just like are whistling or blowing out a candle. Try to breathe out for longer than you breathe in.

Blow as you go

Breathe in before you start to move, then breathe out when you are making a big effort, such as bending down, lifting something heavy or going up stairs.

Fan Therapy 

Hold a small hand held fan about 15 centimetres away from your face, aim to feel the air on the center of your face above your lip, the cool air can help you feel less breathless. A desk or free standing fan can also be used. 

There is more information on Managing Breathlessness in this leaflet 


Relaxation techniques

Breathlessness can be a scary experience, especially if you have not experienced it before. It often causes people to feel anxious leading to a panic attack. Anxiety and panic themselves can lead to more breathlessness creating a vicious cycle. The breathing techniques above can help to reduce the feeling of breathlessness and so lower anxiety levels. More information on relaxation can be found here.

Breathlessness Diary

Keeping a diary of your breathlessness can help you find certain activities that make you feel short of breath. You can see if your symptoms are worse at certain times of day. Try rating each activity for example showering, washing dishes, walking a short distance. A score of 0 would mean you have no breathlessness and a score of 10 is the most breathless you can get. This can help you to plan your day and keep note your progress.

Cough Management

Coughs can be caused by lots of things like smoking or infections like Coronavirus. Allergies such as hay fever is another example. Heartburn (acid reflux) and secretions from the nose dripping down into the throat also lead to more coughing. Further information and guidance on managing a cough can be found here 

Clearing Secretions

You may have secretions in your chest that you find difficult to get rid of. Here are some tips and ways to help you to manage this:

  • Drink water regularly throughout the day.
  • Limit the amount of tea and coffee you drink. If your mouth feels dry your airways are dry too so drink some water. (Note: Some medical conditions mean you have to restrict fluid intake, if you think this applies to you discuss and check this with your GP.)
  • Avoid alcohol as it can make you dehydrated.
  • Steam or humidity can also help loosen and clear secretions. A warm shower can often be useful.
  • Moving around can be one of the best ways to clear secretions as activity makes you breathe deeper. This can help loosen and move secretions making it easier to clear. Remember that after illness you may find yourself more tired, breathless and low in energy even when just walking. So take your time and build up activity gradually and rest when you need to. You can find some simple activities and exercises to get you started here .


Breathing Exercises and techniques can help remove secretions.

These videos explain two physiotherapy techniques you may want to try:

1. Active cycle of Breathing Technique


2. Autogenic Drainage Technique 

Please note: The above videos were produced by Advanced and Specialist Physiotherapists within the Respiratory Services of NHS GG&C. The aim of the videos is to provide patients with a diagnosis of bronchiectasis with treatment options to help manage their symptoms. The Respiratory Physiotherapy Services have expertise managing a wide range of respiratory conditions and these videos are relevant to managing other lung conditions.

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Last Updated: 22 September 2020