How can my doctor manage shortness of breath?

Your doctor will help you manage dyspnea by first identifying and then treating the condition causing your breathing trouble. Depending on the underlying condition, your treatment may include:

  • Exercise: Improving your physical fitness can strengthen your heart and lungs. Better overall health can help you feel less winded during activity. Even with a heart or lung condition, cardiovascular rehabilitation might help. The provider might also suggest that you learn breathing techniques.
  • Medication: Inhaled drugs called bronchodilators can relax your airways in asthma and in COPD. Medication to relieve pain or anxiety can ease breathlessness.
  • Oxygen therapy: Receiving extra oxygen through a mask or tube in the nostrils can help you breathe more comfortably. This is only appropriate when the blood oxygen level is measured by a healthcare professional and shown to be low.

How will a doctor determine what is causing my shortness of breath?

Tests might include:

  • Physical exam: This would cover things like taking your temperature and listening to your chest. A fever could indicate an infection.
  • Pulse oximetry: A provider uses a finger sensor to see how much oxygen you have in your blood.
  • Chest X-ray, CT scans or other special imaging tests: These would suggest a cause of breathlessness if you do not already have a diagnosis of a chronic condition.
  • Blood tests: These could show anemia, infections and other conditions.
  • Lung function tests: These tests indicate how well you are breathing.
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing: These tests indicate the volume of oxygen taken in and carbon dioxide let out during exercise performed on treadmills or stationary bikes.

How can I ease or relieve shortness of breath?

You may prevent or relieve shortness of breath on your own. Helpful steps may include:

  • Avoiding inhaling chemicals that can irritate your lungs, like paint fumes and car exhaust.
  • Practicing breathing and/or relaxation techniques to improve your breathing function.
  • Stopping smoking, if you smoke. Don’t start smoking if you don’t now smoke.
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Avoiding activity in times when temperatures are very hot or very cold, or when the humidity is high. If you have lung disease, observe air pollution (ozone) alerts issued on radio and TV.
  • Making sure your equipment is in good working order when you use oxygen.

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