Painkillers can sometimes be used to help relieve breathlessness. For example, the painkiller morphine can be given in tablet or liquid form, or by injection under the skin.
Sedative drugs can help to relieve anxiety and panic, which some people experience because of their breathlessness.
Steroids can help 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 in tablet form or through an inhaler. They can also be given through a nebuliser. A nebuliser is a small machine that turns the liquid drug into a fine mist, so you can breathe it deep into your lungs. A tube connects the machine to a face mask. You breathe through the mask to inhale the drug.
Sterile salt water (saline) can be given through a nebuliser to loosen sticky phlegm.
Diuretics (medicines to help you pass more urine) can help you get rid of excess fluid if your breathlessness is caused by a build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary oedema).
Oxygen treatment for breathlessness
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 or someone at home smokes, it increases the risk of a fire when using oxygen treatment. Your doctor may suggest that you stop smoking before prescribing oxygen for you to use at home.
If you only need oxygen for short periods of time, an oxygen cylinder may be recommended. This is a storage tank containing oxygen for you to breathe.
If you need oxygen for longer periods of time, you may have an oxygen concentrator. This is a larger machine that takes and filters oxygen from the surrounding air to supply to you.
With a cylinder or concentrator, you breathe in the oxygen 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.
Complementary therapies for breathlessness
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.
We have more information about complementary therapies.