Breathlessness is one of the most common symptoms experienced by people living with a chronic or rare lung disease or lung cancer. It can be very uncomfortable, frightening and fatiguing. You may find some days better than others. Practicing breathing exercises and relaxation techniques can help you feel confident on days that are more challenging.
“Recognising when you need to slow down and allowing yourself more time to get your tasks done is important. Breathlessness can be overwhelming – it’s normal to feel panicked, which amplifies the feelings of breathlessness. Recognising this is important so you can concentrate on relaxing your muscles and slowing your breathing,” Lung Foundation Australia Respiratory Care Nurse, Amanda said.
“When you feel worried, anxious or uptight, you use a greater amount of energy which can leave you feeling fatigued. Stress may also change your breathing patterns causing shallow breathing from the chest. You might find you breathe with your upper chest and use extra muscles around your chest and shoulders, leading to tension.
“When you’re experiencing breathlessness, focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose, deep into your diaphragm, and try using pursed lips as you breathe out. Breathing out should take longer than breathing in. Concentrate on relaxing your shoulders as you breathe out.”
Through a program like pulmonary rehabilitation, a respiratory physiotherapist can build on these simple techniques to help you slow your breathing and restore your energy.
“Your feelings of breathlessness may increase with different levels of activity, so it’s important to learn how to adapt and control your breathing, depending on the circumstances. For people who don’t have access to a pulmonary rehabilitation program, or those living in COVID-19 hotspots or in self-isolation, we developed the online Maintaining Movement video series. The at-home exercise series is designed specifically for people living with lung disease, delivered by our qualified exercise physiologist and can be accessed via our website,” Amanda said.
“If prescribed, using your reliever and maintenance medications can assist in managing symptoms of breathlessness. It is important that you understand the role of each of your medications and your medications are used correctly as prescribed to ensure their effectiveness.”
Research has also shown that the cool draft of air from a hand-held fan may help control breathlessness.
“These are a great option because they are cheap and easily portable. A freestanding or desktop fan, or the breeze through an open door or window, may also help. Some people find that a cool washer or a mist of water on the face has the same effect,” Amanda said.
For more information about breathlessness, pulmonary rehabilitation, or to purchase a hand-held fan, free call 1800 654 301 or click here.
Tips to check your inhaler device technique
To help you manage symptoms such as breathlessness, your doctor may prescribe you medications that require you to use an inhaler device. Whether you’re new to using an inhaler device or have been taking your medications for a long time, it’s important to ensure you’re using them correctly. If you’re not, you may not be getting the most out of your medications. Here are our tops tips for checking your technique.
Know your device
There are different types of inhalers and each may require a slightly different technique. If you are prescribed a new inhaler device, or your medications are changed, ask your doctor to show you how to use it correctly and help you to practice getting the technique right. Discuss with them when you should book a review visit if you’ve started a new treatment or your current treatment has changed.
Avoid skipping steps
If you’ve been using an inhaler device for a long period of time it’s easy to start taking short cuts or develop bad habits. Take your devices to your next appointment and ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for a refresher. Your inhaler will only be effective if you use it correctly. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist to show you how to use each type of inhaler you have and make sure they review your technique at least every year.
Watch our technique videos
Lung Foundation Australia has a suite of inhaler device technique videos that demonstrate the correct technique for each device. We also have a range of other free resources and information available to support you with the management of your condition.
Our highly experienced Respiratory Care Nurse, Amanda, offers a free telephone-based service for people living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or bronchiectasis. Through three telephone appointments, Amanda provides evidence-based information and support on all aspects of your condition and can connect you with information and self-management support to help you live well with your lung condition. To arrange a free telephone appointment, contact free call 1800 654 301.