Expert Answers: Shortness of Breath and Supplemental Oxygen

One of the most common symptoms of COPD that someone may experience is shortness of breath (also called SOB, “breathlessness”, or “dyspnea”). Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema can cause shortness of breath. We noticed that a common question from the community involves why this symptom is not always prevented by the use of supplemental oxygen - which is a type of treatment for COPD also known as "oxygen therapy." So, we asked our experts JohnLeon, and Lyn to share some thoughts on the following question:

Why doesn't supplemental oxygen prevent me from getting short of breath?


Supplemental oxygen is a drug that treats symptoms. If your lung disease has progressed so that your lungs are unable to get enough oxygen from the air you inhale into your bloodstream, inhaling a small amount of supplemental oxygen will help keep your oxygen levels from dropping. Even if you are inhaling oxygen, you still have COPD and are still susceptible to a flare-up. Flare-ups can be prevented, can be made less severe, and treated with a good COPD treatment program that can only be created by working with a physician.


With some patients' COPD, lung function has been reduced to the point that supplemental oxygen has been prescribed by the physician. Supplemental oxygen, or oxygen therapy, can improve one's mood and sleep quality, increase mental alertness and stamina, permit a person's body to function more normally, and even prevent heart failure in patients with severe lung disease.

If, after regular use, oxygen therapy has become less effective, this should be discussed with your physician. It is possible you need to be re-evaluated to determine what has changed which resulted in the loss of efficacy of the prescribed oxygen. The point is that if oxygen, which has previously been successful for you has stopped providing relief, a reassessment may be warranted.


When you’re feeling short of breath, try taking breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth; this will serve two purposes. One, since you’re wearing the oxygen in your nose, it will ensure you’re getting the most benefit from it. Second, breathing out through your mouth gives your lungs more time to exhale – making you feel less short of breath. It may also help to “purse” or pucker your lips as though you’re going to whistle as you exhale.

Remember to always pace yourself – even with supplemental oxygen. This allows you to reserve your energy and maintain your stamina for a longer period of time.

How about you? What is your experience of supplemental oxygen and experiencing shortness of breath? Please feel free to share with other people in the community by adding your comments below!

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