Improving breathlessness at home
It can be distressing to feel short of breath, but a range of simple strategies and treatments can provide some relief at home.
Create a breezeUse a handheld fan to direct a cool stream of air across your face if you experience breathlessness when you are not exerting yourself.
Treat other conditionsLet your doctor know if you feel breathless. Other conditions, such as anaemia or a lung infection, may also make you feel short of breath, and these can often be treated.
Find ways to relaxListen to a relaxation recording or learn other ways to relax. This can allow you to control anxiety and breathe more easily. In some states and territories, Cancer Council offers free relaxation CDs or you can listen to the recordings online.
Ask about medicinesTalk to your doctor about medicines, such as a low dose of morphine, to manage feelings of distress. Make sure your chest pain is well controlled as pain may stop you breathing deeply.
Sleep in a chairUse a recliner chair to help you sleep in a more upright position.
Relax on a pillowLean forward on a table with an arm crossed over a pillow to allow your breathing muscles to relax.
Modify your movementSome types of gentle exercise can help, but check with your doctor first. A physiotherapist, exercise physiologist and/ or occupational therapist from your treatment centre can explain how to modify your activities to improve
Explore optionsSome people find breathing exercises, acupuncture and meditation helpful. Call 13 11 20 or see Complementary Therapies.
Check if equipment could helpAsk your health care team about equipment to manage breathlessness. You may be able to use an oxygen concentrator at home to deliver oxygen to your lungs. For social outings and medical appointments, you can use a portable oxygen cylinder. If you have a cough or wheeze, you may benefit from a nebuliser, a device that delivers medicine into your lungs.
A/Prof Brian McCaughan, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Theodora Ahilas, Principal Lawyer, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, NSW; Prof David Ball, Director, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Shirley Bare, Consumer; Cassandra Dickens, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Care Coordinator – Thoracic Malignancies, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Penny Jacomos, Social Worker, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, SA; A/Prof Thomas John, Medical Oncologist, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, Austin Health, and Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, VIC; Victoria Keena, Executive Officer, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Penny Lefeuvre, Consumer; Jocelyn McLean, Mesothelioma Support Coordinator, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, NSW; Prof David Morris, Peritonectomy Surgeon, St George Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Western Australia; Prof Anna Nowak, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine and Pharmacology, The University of Western Australia, WA; Prof Jennifer Philip, Palliative Care Specialist, St Vincent’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Nicole Taylor, Acting Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Cancer Specialist Nurse, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. Previous editions of this title and related resources were funded in part by the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities and a donation from Lyall Watts.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a qualified health professional someone who has been there, support groups & forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Learn about this type of mesothelioma, its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and how to manage its symptoms
Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope
Patient rights and responsibilities
What you can reasonably expect from your health care providers
View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends