Shortness of breath is a serious problem for patients with lung cancer or metastases to the lung, but other patients may also suffer decrease in respiratory function, especially in the lung’s ability to defend itself against infection.
Chemotherapy, anemia, and malnutrition are but a few of the factors that affect the proper functioning of the lungs, but there are several things patients can do to make breathing easier, to promote adequate blood circulation, and to ensure that the maximum amount of oxygen possible gets into the blood from the lungs.
- Learn to breathe properly, inhaling through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth with the lips pursed, as if blowing out a candle. Exhaling should take about twice as long as inhaling. In breathing, use the abdominal muscles rather than the chest muscles. The abdominal muscles should be relaxed and pushed out while inhaling, contracted while exhaling. In other words, while the air comes in, the abdomen goes out and while the air goes out, the abdomen comes in.
- Assume a comfortable position when experiencing shortness of breath. In bed, the patient should use one or more pillows or a back support to elevate the upper body at least 45 degrees, and tilt the shoulders forward while supporting the body with the arms spread away from the sides and resting the feet on a footboard or other support. To keep the lungs as clear as possible, the patient should alternate positions, lying first on one side and then the other, with the upper body elevated. If the person is sitting up, he or she should lean forward and rest the elbows and forearms on a desk or table.
- Move around or stand at the bedside to help circulation, even though this may seem difficult to those chronically short of breath.
- Avoid sitting in one position too long and avoid crossing the legs, since this inhibits circulation to the feet. Special antiembolism stockings should be worn by both men and women, especially those taking steroids.
- Do simple arm and leg exercises, even if confined to bed. Range-of motion and isometric exercises will maintain mobility and improve muscle tone. A physical therapist, doctor, or nurse can recommend :/ specific exercises.
- Drink sufficient quantities of liquid—as much as eight to ten glasses a day to help keep the mucous membranes functioning properly so that ” they are able to clear the lungs of secretions.
- Cough effectively to help clear the lungs. Practice “staged coughing Breathe deeply two times. On the third breath, inhale and hold for two or three seconds. Brace the feet on the floor or against the foot of the bed and cough three times. The coughs should come from deep in the chest.
- Humidify the air with a cold-water vaporizer, a pan of water on a source of heat, or a humidifier as part of the central heating system.
If shortness of breath becomes a chronic problem, the patient may get a doctor’s prescription for oxygen therapy at home. One big tank or several smaller ones with extension tubing can serve various rooms, and a portable tank can be attached to a wheelchair, permitting the patient to go out. Safety precautions must be taken with oxygen use. The patient, visitors, and family should beware of flames of any type: cigarettes, pilot lights, and so on can cause an explosion. Care should be taken not to get kinks in the tubing that will obstruct the flow. The flow rate should not be increased beyond the physician’s instructions.