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Experiencing frequent shortness of breath can not only be uncomfortable, but can also be a cause for concern in terms of your overall health. In this informative article, renowned consultant cardiologist Dr Jonathan Hasleton gives invaluable practical advice on improving breathing control and avoiding triggers for breathlessness. The specialist also details the possible causes of shortness of breath and how bad breathing habits can contribute to breathing problems.

Why do people experience shortness of breath?

Experiencing frequent shortness of breath can be concerning. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to improve your ability to control your breathing and to help relieve discomfort. By improving symptoms of breathlessness, you can also help to avoid developing further respiratory problems in the future. 

There are a number of factors which can be behind breathlessness, from your overall fitness to bad breathing habits and even your thoughts. Most often, shortness of breath can be caused by your lifestyle, meaning that some small changes can help to avoid triggers. Unfortunately, in some cases, breathlessness can be caused by a more serious condition, which will need specialist management and treatment. 

Shortness of breath which occurs frequently or while at rest could be indicative of an underlying condition affecting the heart or lungs, such as asthma, anaemia, abnormal heart function or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  If you are concerned about shortness of breath, you should visit a doctor so that further testing can be performed where necessary.

Being frequently short of breath could be down to your lifestyle. By improving your overall health and fitness level, most people can improve their symptoms of breathlessness. There are a number of lifestyle modifications which can help to resolve shortness of breath, including:

  • Losing excess weight, particularly if obesity is contributing to your breathing problems
  • Partaking in regular exercise to increase your fitness
  • Avoiding physical exertion in very hot weather or at high altitudes
  • Quitting smoking, as well as avoiding second-hand smoke, allergens and pollutants

How can bad breathing habits cause shortness of breath?

Some breathing habits that we pick up over time can make you feel as though you are short of breath, even when you haven’t exerted yourself very much. Instinctively, we often try to breathe faster to take in more air when we are feeling breathless. However, in many cases, this doesn’t really help the body to regain breathing control. 

Short, quick breaths are more taxing and are only taken in through the chest, as opposed to the whole of the lungs. This can quickly make you feel tired and cause discomfort, rather than relieving the feeling of being short of breath. 

In contrast, many types of relaxation practice will often ask you to inhale deeply and hold your breath briefly before exhaling slowly. This is far more effective in relieving breathlessness as it allows plenty of oxygen to reach your lungs and move around your body. Learning better breathing control techniques can help you to manage feelings of shortness of breath and even avoid them all together. 

How can I improve my breathing control?

By frequently practising the following breathing exercise, you can strengthen your breathing control which in turn can help to resolve and limit breathlessness. You should complete the following exercise while sitting down in a relaxed position.

  1. Allow your neck and shoulders to relax into the position which feels best and allows you to breathe most fully and comfortably. This helps to relieve tension in the body and optimises the position of the diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle. 
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  3. Close your eyes to help you to fully focus on your breathing.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose, keeping your mouth closed. As the air reaches deep into your lungs, you should feel your stomach expand against your hand. The other hand, placed on your chest, should not feel a significant movement.
  5. Exhale through the nose and observe how your stomach contracts.
  6. Continue to take slow and relaxed breaths with a smooth inhale and exhale. You should breathe out for slightly longer than you breathe in, with a short natural pause between inhaling and exhaling.

Dr Hasleton is one of the UK’s leading consultant cardiologists and practises at Venturi Cardiology clinic. If you are concerned about shortness of breath and would like to schedule a consultation with Dr Hasleton, you can do so by visiting his Top Doctors profile.