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Difficulty Breathing

It is common for people with lung cancer to have breathing problems. Breathing problems can be caused by fluid around the lungs or heart, a blocked airway, stress or anxiety, infection, or a condition called radiation fibrosis. They may be a side effect of treatment or a symptom of cancer.

Sometimes, lifestyle changes can help with breathing problems. In other cases, medical treatment may be needed. Start by trying these tips:

  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk with your health care team about how to do this.
  • If possible, avoid being around others when they are smoking.
  • Get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and eat a healthy diet. Light exercise may help as well.
  • Sleep with your head raised above your lungs.
  • Use a humidifier or a vaporizer to relieve mucus.
  • Take slow, relaxing breaths to help you relax and manage stress. Mindfulness meditation can help as well.
  • Try making the room cooler. Open a window, use a fan, or lower the temperature on the heat or air conditioner.
  • If you use an inhaler, be sure to do so exactly as your doctor prescribed. If inhalers are not used consistently over time, they will not relieve symptoms.

If more help is needed, take these steps:

  • Call your doctor right away if you have tightness in your chest, pain, fever, or trouble breathing.
  • Ask your doctor about these treatments to relieve breathing problems
  • Oxygen therapy provides you with more oxygen. There are different ways to do this. Some can be used at home.
  • Corticosteroid therapy uses steroids to ease breathing trouble.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program of exercises and education led by a trained professional.