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Shortness of Breath


Shortness of breath

is a feeling that you cannot get enough air when you breathe in. You may have this feeling only during activity, or all the time. Your symptoms can range from mild to severe. Shortness of breath may be a sign of a serious health condition that needs immediate care.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your signs and symptoms are the same or worse within 24 hours of treatment.
  • The skin over your ribs or on your neck sinks in when you breathe.
  • You feel confused or dizzy.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Medicines may be used to treat the cause of your symptoms. You may need medicine to treat a bacterial infection or reduce anxiety. Other medicines may be used to open your airway, reduce swelling, or remove extra fluid. If you have a heart condition, you may need medicine to help your heart beat more strongly or regularly.
  • Oxygen may be given to help you breathe more easily.

Manage shortness of breath:

  • Create an action plan. You and your healthcare provider can work together to create a plan for how to handle shortness of breath. The plan can include daily activities, treatment changes, and what to do if you have severe breathing problems.
  • Lean forward on your elbows when you sit. This helps your lungs expand and may make it easier to breathe.
  • Use pursed-lip breathing any time you feel short of breath. Breathe in through your nose and then slowly breathe out through your mouth with your lips slightly puckered. It should take you twice as long to breathe out as it did to breathe in.
    Breathe in Breathe out
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and make shortness of breath worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight. Your healthcare provider can help you create a safe weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise can help your lungs work more easily. Exercise can also help you lose weight if needed. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

Follow up with your healthcare provider or specialist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.