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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?

Response from John
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.

Response from Leon
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.

Response from Lyn
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!


  • frogette4
    3 weeks ago

    Right now I feel as though I can’t get enough air due to having broncheichietas, pulmonary fibrosis, COPD and now have pneumonia. I can’t do anything without huffing and puffing. It’s very discouraging! I’m thankful to you for allowing me to join this group.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Hi frogette, and thanks for your comment. I’m sorry to hear you’re having such difficulty with your breathing. What are you (and your physician) doing to manage these conditions? They are very complex to deal with all together.
    We’re glad to have you as a member here. Please know you are always welcome in our online community.
    Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • melinda123
    2 years ago

    I recently have had a decline and use O2 24/7. I am also experiencing hyperventilate at times. I have heard that a person lungs become dependent on using O2 is this true or can you exercise and make lungs stronger and wein off to not needing all the time.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi (again) melinda123 and thanks for your excellent question. If your physician has prescribed supplemental oxygen for you (around-the-clock), you’ll almost certainly feel better wearing it. People do not really become ‘dependent’ on oxygen, but if their condition warrants its use, and it’s prescribed by a physician, then it’s always better to use it.
    There are pulmonary rehabilitation programs available and, if your physician feels this is something that is indicated for you, it could very well be of benefit. You may want to ask your doctor about that. I thought you might find it helpful to look over this article on that very subject: Please do check back and let us know how you’re doing.
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • twovillages
    2 years ago

    I have been experimenting with my albuterol inhaler. If I use it 10 minutes before I go out in the cold weather, or for a short walk, I am much less SOB. I’m new on oxygen since a flare this summer. If I drop below 88, I need to use it. One doctor says I have an asthma component, the other says it is the emphysema. I guess albuterol can be helpful to some for both conditions.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    twovillages – you guessed it right! Albuterol can have be helpful for both COPD and asthma. It has the effect of opening the airways and relaxing the smooth muscle, so allows the air to move more freely.

    It’s great that you’re learning to know when you need to use oxygen and medication to feel better – it can make a big difference in your life.

    Lyn (moderator)

  • Lazy T
    2 years ago

    I have had this occur. Dr. warned it could be forewarning for an onset of a flare up and told be to be very careful with activities, and continue to monitor 02 saturation levels. After a couple of days of following those instructions…the sob declined and went back to the normal stuff.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Lazy T and thanks for sharing your experience here in our online community. It sounds like your physician provided good advice and, by following it, the recommendation seemed to work well for you! Hopefully, the advice will continue to serve you well moving forward.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

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