Breathlessness

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Is being breathless doing me harm?

Breathlessness in itself is not harmful, even through it is very unpleasant. It is important for you to remain as active as your illness allows and you will almost certainly have to reduce the demands you make on your body. You may have to change the way you do some things and do things that you used to do without thinking, slowly and with small breaks. For example, some people find getting washed and dressed a great effort -it is best to plan getting up in the morning, getting washed and dressed in lots of small steps with breaks in between. It may be sensible to ask someone else in your family to do some of the really heavy work like carrying shopping, just to pace yourself during the day.Is being breathless doing me harm?
Breathlessness in itself is not harmful, even through it is very unpleasant. It is important for you to remain as active as your illness allows and you will almost certainly have to reduce the demands you make on your body. You may have to change the way you do some things and do things that you used to do without thinking, slowly and with small breaks. For example, some people find getting washed and dressed a great effort -it is best to plan getting up in the morning, getting washed and dressed in lots of small steps with breaks in between. It may be sensible to ask someone else in your family to do some of the really heavy work like carrying shopping, just to pace yourself during the day.

Are there any drugs that will help my breathlessness?

There are three main families of drugs used to help breathlessness. The most commonly used drugs from these groups are:

You may well have already taken steroids for another condition as they are commonly used in all branches of medicine, your doctor will advise you how to take them. We usually think of Morphine as a drug to treat pain, but it may be very useful for breathlessness. It is needed in a much smaller dose and sometimes less frequently than when used in pain relief. Diazepam, also usually called Valium, is not only used to treat anxiety. It can also help breathlessness - it is usually prescribed at night as it can make you sleepy and the doctor will often start with a low dose, building you up to a higher dose depending on how it suits you.

Will oxygen help me?

Oxygen may help breathlessness in some people. It does not help everyone. If oxygen helps you, the hospital will talk to your family doctor and see if you can have it available at home. It will not be prescribed if it is not doing you any good. If you find oxygen helpful you can use it at anytime - some people use it when they know they are going to be busy e.g. just before they prepare to walk upstairs, or just before walking up the road. Other people like to use it now and again when they have become breathless.
Oxygen may help breathlessness in some people. It does not help everyone. If oxygen helps you, the hospital will talk to your family doctor and see if you can have it available at home. It will not be prescribed if it is not doing you any good. If you find oxygen helpful you can use it at anytime - some people use it when they know they are going to be busy e.g. just before they prepare to walk upstairs, or just before walking up the road. Other people like to use it now and again when they have become breathless. Will oxygen help me?
Oxygen may help breathlessness in some people. It does not help everyone. If oxygen helps you, the hospital will talk to your family doctor and see if you can have it available at home. It will not be prescribed if it is not doing you any good. If you find oxygen helpful you can use it at anytime - some people use it when they know they are going to be busy e.g. just before they prepare to walk upstairs, or just before walking up the road. Other people like to use it now and again when they have become breathless.

Is there anything I can do the help my breathlessness?

Most people find a draught of air across their face, produced by a small hand held fan or one that they have on a stand in their house reduces the feeling of breathlessness. A draught from an open window or even cooling the face with cold water may also be helpful.
Most people find a draught of air across their face, produced by a small hand held fan or one that they have on a stand in their house reduces the feeling of breathlessness. A draught from an open window or even cooling the face with cold water may also be helpful. Is there anything I can do the help my breathlessness?
Most people find a draught of air across their face, produced by a small hand held fan or one that they have on a stand in their house reduces the feeling of breathlessness. A draught from an open window or even cooling the face with cold water may also be helpful.

A very important contribution to controlling breathlessness is trying to plan your activities so that you can do them in small steps and trying not to get too frightened or upset if you become breathless. It is important to be as active as you can.

 For advice on diet click on 'Shortness of Breath and Your Diet'

Is there anything I can do to stop myself feeling frightened?

It is very common for people who are breathless to feel very frightened. This can in fact make your breathing worse which in turn makes you more frightened. Everyone has different ways of reducing anxiety or panic. It is important to remind yourself that breathlessness is not in itself dangerous. Stop whatever activity is making you breathless, sit down and wait for it to ease off.
It is very common for people who are breathless to feel very frightened. This can in fact make your breathing worse which in turn makes you more frightened. Everyone has different ways of reducing anxiety or panic. It is important to remind yourself that breathlessness is not in itself dangerous. Stop whatever activity is making you breathless, sit down and wait for it to ease off. Is there anything I can do to stop myself feeling frightened?
It is very common for people who are breathless to feel very frightened. This can in fact make your breathing worse which in turn makes you more frightened. Everyone has different ways of reducing anxiety or panic. It is important to remind yourself that breathlessness is not in itself dangerous. Stop whatever activity is making you breathless, sit down and wait for it to ease off.

There are some techniques which you can use to help reduce and control breathlessness including relaxation and breathing exercises. Having someone with you in the house or when you are out and about is also very reassuring. 

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.


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