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How to breathe when you are short of breath

Pursed lip breathing

When to use pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing helps you use less energy to breathe. It can help you relax. When you are short of breath, it helps you slow the pace of your breathing and can help you feel less short of breath.

Use pursed lip breathing when you do things that make you short of breath, such as:

  • Exercise
  • Bend
  • Lift
  • Climb stairs
  • Feel anxious

You can practice pursed lip breathing anytime. Try to practice 4 or 5 times a day when you:

  • Watch TV
  • Use your computer
  • Read a newspaper

How to do pursed lip breathing

  1. Relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
  2. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts.
  4. Feel your belly get larger as you breathe in.
  5. Pucker your lips, as if you were going to whistle or blow out a candle.
  6. Exhale slowly through your lips for 4 or more counts.

Exhale normally. Do not force the air out. Do not hold your breath when you are doing pursed lip breathing. Repeat these steps until your breathing slows.

References

Celli BR, ZuWallack RL. Pulmonary rehabilitation. In: Mason RJ, Murray JF, Broaddus VC, et al., eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 94.

Nield MA. Efficacy of pursed-lips breathing: a breathing pattern retraining strategy for dyspnea reduction. J Cardiopulm Rehab Prev. 2007;4:237-244.

Update Date: 4/26/2014

Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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