Breathlessness and long COVID

Breathlessness is a very common symptom in people with long COVID. Your lungs can become inflamed with your initial infection and the effort of breathing can increase.

You may be breathing more quickly and shallower than normal, however, it is important to try and stay calm.

As your lungs recover and time passes into the 12 week mark following infection, there can be other reasons for your breathlessness to continue. These can be due to being deconditioned and anxiety.

Anxiety can also increase your heart rate and make your breathing rate increase further. We encourage breathing control to help manage your breathlessness. Practice at rest to begin with then use during activity.

Breathing control - something to help you relax

  1. Get in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.
  3. Breathe in and out through your nose (or mouth if you are unable to do this – but work towards trying to breathe through your nose in time).
  4. Put a hand on your stomach and recognise how it rises and falls when you breathe in and out.
  5. Try to breathe in for the count of one, PAUSE and then out for count of two, working towards a longer breath out than in. This will slow your breathing rate down.
  6. Notice areas of tension in your body and try to release this with each breath out.
  7. Gradually try to make your breaths slower and deeper.

Positions of ease:

High side lying

  • Lie on your side
  • Use multiple pillows under your head and shoulders
  • Bend your knees a little.

Supported forward sitting

  • Sitting upright, lean forward on to a table
  • Add as many pillows as required.

Forward sitting:

  • Sit leaning forward
  • Rest your forearms on your knees
  • Relax your chest and shoulders.

High side lying

  • Stand leaning forward and use a chair, bench or wall for support
  • Relax your chest and shoulders.

Breathing control - something to help you relax

This is useful during activities that make you breathless e.g. lifting an object (can be used with pursed lip breathing)

  1. Breathe in before you make the effort.
  2. Breath out whilst making the effort (e.g. as you lift the object).
  3. Always breathe out on the hardest part of the action.

How can I manage my cough?

You may be experiencing a persistent, dry cough. This can be irritating, exhausting and can lead to inflammation in your upper airways.

There are techniques that you can use to help to reduce the amount you cough. By supressing your cough, you can break the cycle of coughing and help reduce your symptoms.

Suppress the urge to cough

  1. Breathing in and out through your nose instead of your mouth.
  2. Sucking on boiled sweets or lollipops
  3. Having regular drinks / sips of fluids

Stop cough exercise

As soon as you feel the urge to cough, close your mouth and cover it with your hand (SMOTHER the cough). At the same time, make yourself SWALLOW. STOP breathing – take a pause. When you start to breathe again, breathe in and out through your nose SOFTLY.

Smother – Swallow – Stop – Soft is a good way to remember this exercise.

If you need to cough, try to cough into a tissue or the crease of your elbow and over 2 metres away from other people. Always wash your hands for 20 seconds after you cough.

If you cough at night, try lying in a different position and / or use pillows to prop yourself up.