When you find yourself in a situation where you just can’t get enough air and you are experiencing shortness of breath, the reason could be minor—or major. It is important you are able to recognize if you’re facing a real emergency, and know the simple solutions that can help you breath easy again.
What causes shortness of breath?
The source may be minor or much more severe. It can be as minor as a viral infection and as major as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. Asthma, pneumonia, COPD, low blood pressure, and lung cancer can be other causes of short breath. Other benign reasons for laboured breathing may be from exercise or poor air quality.
How can you distinguish run-of-the-mill shortness of breath from something that needs emergency medical attention? Red flags include breathing troubles that comes on suddenly and severely as with an allergic reaction, is worsening, or continues after 30 minutes of rest.
In that case, seek medical attention—even sooner if there’s chest pain associated with it, which could be a sign of a heart attack. Call your doctor if you’re having a cough that’s accompanied by bloody mucous or neck pain.
Take a deep belly breath
When you experience shortness of breath, take a deep belly breath (also known as diaphragmatic breathing). Not only does it help you relax (it’s one of the easy ways to stay calm), but it helps your body to destress, too.
This type of breathing helps slow down your sympathetic nervous system, which is what activates your fight or flight response. Place a hand on your belly, and breathe in deeply and steadily through your nose.
You should feel your belly extending out under your hand. As you exhale, your belly sinks back in. Take care that your exhalation is longer than your inhalation. Repeat for a couple minutes.
Purse your lips
Another way to get breathing under control while relaxng is pursed lip breathing. Relax your neck and shoulders and breathe in through your nose for two counts. Then barely part your lips (like you’re getting ready to whistle) and push the air out slowly and gently for four counts.
Pursed lip breathing can release air that’s been trapped in your lungs. It’s especially great if you’re lifting objects or climbing stairs.