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How to breathe when you are short of breath

Alternate Names

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:

  • Exercising
  • Bending
  • Lifting
  • Climbing stairs
  • When you feel anxiety 

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

  • You are watching TV.
  • You are using your computer.
  • You are reading a newspaper.

How to Do Pursed Lip Breathing

Relax the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor.

Do these steps in this order:

  1. Breathe in (inhale) slowly through your nose for 2 counts.
  2. Feel your belly get larger as you breathe in.
  3. Pucker your lips, as if you were going to whistle or blow out a candle.
  4. Breathe out (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.


Review Date: 5/29/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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