Breathlessness after coronavirus

Coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery

Breathlessness is having shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. This can be hard to manage. It can be a common symptom when you recover from coronavirus. 

There are ways to manage breathlessness, and techniques or positions that can ease breathlessness after activity. 

If you feel your breathing is getting worse, or you have new breathlessness after coronavirus, it's important to get medical advice.

Tips for managing breathlessness

  • Avoid holding your breath during activities, such as climbing stairs, or bending. 
  • Try to ‘blow as you go’. This means breathing out on effort, such as when bending, lifting, reaching or standing up from a chair.
  • Avoid rushing.
  • Try matching the rhythm of your breathing to your steps. For example, take a breath in and out on each step when you climb the stairs.
  • Sometimes a fan directed towards your mouth and nose can help to reduce feelings of breathlessness.

Pursed-lips breathing

Some people find breathing in through the nose and out through narrowed lips helps to ease their breathlessness. People who find this helpful often do it without realising. 

Pursed-lips breathing helps to keep the airways open. This allows the air to leave the lungs more easily. It creates more room for the next breath in.

This technique tends to help people who have breathlessness with conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema.

Positions to help breathlessness

There are positions that can help to ease breathlessness at rest and after activity.

You can experiment with different positions, and change them until you find what works best for you. Only do the positions that feel comfortable for you. 

These positions place the arms so that the breathing accessory muscles are in a better position to help with breathing. Leaning forward might also improve the movement of your diaphragm, which is the main muscle of breathing.

  • Position 1. Lie down on a bed and make sure you are fully over on your side. Rest your upper arm on a pillow if this helps.
  • Position 2. Sit on a chair with a table in front of you. Put pillows or cushions onto the table, stacked to a comfortable height for you. Relax your head down onto the pillows as much as possible. Having your legs apart might help.

Positions after you've been active

There are positions that might help ease breathlessness after you have been active.

With all positions, try to relax your hands, wrists, shoulders, neck and jaw as much as possible. Only do the positions that feel comfortable for you. 

You can experiment with your arm position. Does your breathing feel easier with your hands behind your head or back?

  • Position 1. Sit on a chair with your legs apart. Lean forward, resting your forearms on your thigh.
  • Position 2. Keeping a straight back, lean your back against a wall. Keep your feet shoulder width apart and a short distance from the wall, with your knees slightly bent.
  • Position 3. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands on your hips. 
  • Position 4. Sit on a chair with a table in front of you. Keep your legs apart and rest your forearms down onto the table. 

Resource number: 5122/VER1
Last reviewed: January 2021
Next review date: December 2023

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about your coronavirus recovery, please speak to a doctor or nurse caring for you. Your discharge letter should have their contact information.

Physiotherapy, phone 020 7188 5082 or 020 7188 5089

Occupational therapy department at St Thomas' Hospital, phone 020 7188 4180

Occupational therapy department at Guy's Hospital, phone 020 7188 4185

Nutrition and dietetics department, phone 020 7188 4128

Speech and language therapy department at St Thomas' Hospital, phone 020 7188 6246

Speech and language therapy department at Guy's Hospital, phone 020 7188 6233

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