Breathlessness

Positions for obstructive lung conditions

In obstructive lung disease, such as COPD, asthma or bronchiectasis it takes longer to empty your lungs. The airflow is slower because the disease makes airways narrower or lungs less elastic.

Because breathing out is slower, the person may need to breathe in again before they have emptied their lungs. This is called hyperinflation or gas-trapping, and makes breathing uncomfortable.

Here are some suggestions to try

Stand leaning forward

Stand leaning forward (figure 1) lean from the hips, with your forearms resting on something at the right height, such as a chair or kitchen work surface.

When you’re out and about, you could lean on a walking stick or a frame with wheels. If you’re shopping, use your supermarket trolley.

figure 1

Sit leaning forward

Sit leaning forward (figure 2): lean resting your elbows on your knees

figure 2

Sit leaning forward at a table

Sit leaning forward at a table (figure 3): rest your head and arms on pillows on a table when you’re really short of breath.

figure 3

Side lying with leg on the floor bent at knee

Lie on your side with pillows under your head (figure 4). Make sure the top pillow supports your neck. Slightly bend the knee of the leg you’re lying on, with your top leg straight. This can help when you’re breathless when you’re resting, such as when your symptoms flare up.

figure 4

For more information about managing your breathlessness if you have COPD, go to our COPD information.

Download our breathlessness PDF (716 KB)

Last medically reviewed: November 2017. Due for review: November 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.