February 5, 2018

Breathlessness

Claire Mulvihill, Lung Cancer Support Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia

There are a number of symptoms and side effects which you may experience when living with lung cancer and other lung diseases in addition to various treatments. Lung cancer and its treatment can affect people in different ways depending on the type, location and size of your lung cancer. You may have general symptoms and not feel well, or have very specific symptoms relating to your lungs or other parts of the body that have been affected by the cancer. Whilst there are a number of side effects which you may experience, in this edition we feature breathlessness and some tips to managing this. We will highlight other common symptoms in such as weight loss and fatigue in future editions.

Shortness of breath is the most common challenge people living with lung cancer and other lung diseases have. It can be uncomfortable and scary and you may feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs. The common causes of breathlessness include:

  • Infection such as a cold, flu or pneumonia
  • Airway obstruction
  • Anxiety or stress often causing more rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Low red blood cells (anaemia)
  • Lung cancer treatments.

Make sure you communicate with your health professional when you start to have difficulty breathing so they can determine the cause quickly and efficiently and provide the best management options.

Tips to manage breathlessness

  • If you currently smoke, quitting will allow better air exchange in your lungs and relieve shortness of breath
  • Avoid environments with second hand smoke
  • Keep hydrated to assist in keeping any mucus thin and to make coughing easier
  • Ask about breathing techniques such as pursed lip breathing or diaphragmatic breathing
  • Rest by sitting down or leaning against a wall
  • Identify triggers of anxiety which may make breathlessness worse
  • Sleep upright to help increase the air flow
  • Utilise relaxation techniques
  • Ensure your rooms are well ventilated or use an electric or handheld fan
  • Supplemental oxygen may need to be considered in the course of your illness.
  • It’s important to discuss these tips with your health professional to determine which are suitable for your needs.
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