Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
Find out how we produce our information|
A number of different medicines can be used to relieve breathlessness.
Painkillers The painkiller morphine can be given in tablet or liquid form, or by injection under the skin. Other types of painkillers can also help to relieve breathlessness.
Sedative drugs can help to relieve any anxiety and panic that breathlessness can cause.
Steroids| can help to reduce inflammation in the airways of the lungs, which then helps to reduce breathlessness.
Bronchodilator drugs widen the air passages and increase airflow. These medicines can be given as tablets or as an inhaler. They can also be given through a specialised mask called a nebuliser, which delivers the liquid drug as a fine mist.
Sterile salt water (saline) can be given through a nebuliser to loosen sticky phlegm.
Sometimes a build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary oedema) can cause breathlessness. This can be managed by using a diuretic (a medicine to help you pass more urine) to help get rid of the excess fluid.
If medicines are difficult to swallow, painkillers, sedatives and other drugs can be infused (pumped slowly under the skin) using a small portable pump called a syringe driver. Painkillers may be given in the form of a patch that releases medicine through the skin.
Oxygen treatment is only suitable for some people who are breathless. Using a fan or sitting by an open window with cool air blowing on to your face may give the same benefit. Your doctor will let you know if oxygen therapy may help you.
If you only need oxygen for short periods of time, an oxygen cylinder may be recommended. If you need oxygen for longer periods of time, an oxygen concentrator may be supplied. This is a machine which takes oxygen from surrounding air.
Oxygen, from either a cylinder or a concentrator, is given using a face mask or through small tubes that sit under the nostrils (nasal cannula). Try using a water-based lubricant like KY Jelly® to stop your lips or nostrils becoming dry if you’re having this treatment.
Finding a complementary therapy| that helps you to relax may help you manage your breathlessness. Therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and meditation may be helpful.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|