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Ways to Reduce Shortness of Breath and Respiratory Problems

ALS symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Some people experience breathing symptoms early on, and some don’t have problems until much later. But eventually, weakness in the muscles that control breathing lead to a variety of symptoms.

Respiratory problems include:

  • A poor cough reflex leading to pooling of secretions in the lungs and the back of the throat. This can lead to upper airway obstruction and/or respiratory infections like pneumonia.

  • Excessive ineffective coughing leading to fatigue, shortness of breath, and ultimately, exhaustion

Here are some tips that may help:

  • Elevation. Raising up the head of the bed may help at night. Use extra pillows under the head, neck, and chest. Or elevate the head of the bed with pillows and blanket under the mattress, between the mattress and box springs, or by placing blocks under the headboard.

  • Conserve your energy. Set time aside during the day to rest between activities. Space activities apart (bathing, dressing, eating, etc.) and reduce unnecessary steps. Plan in advance. Sit down when possible to do an activity and ask for help with the task you are trying to do if it causes shortness of breath. Plan your daily activities around your energy level.

  • Breathing and coughing exercises. These can help maintain healthy lung function. Deep breaths help to fully expand the lungs. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths, with a short rest in between, several times a day.

  • Devices to help with secretions. Portable suction can help remove secretions from the mouth. If you have a weak cough your healthcare provider may prescribe a cough assist device. This device can help you to remove secretions from your lungs by producing a stronger cough.  The device can also help open up the bottom of the lungs. 

  • Noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NIPPV). The most commonly used NIPPV device is a BiPAP, which is similar to a CPAP device that is used for people with sleep apnea. This device provides pressure to open your lungs and promote the exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The pressure is delivered by a mask that can be taken off when the device is not required. Using a BiPAP can prolong and improve your quality of life.

  • Mouthpiece ventilation (MPV). This is an extension arm that is attached to the BiPAP. It allows you to take a deep breath of air from the BiPAP, when needed, without using a mask. MPV can help you with shortness of breath during the day and improve your speaking voice.

  • Invasive ventilation. Thisis when a tracheostomy tube is surgically inserted in the neck. It is then connected to a ventilator that will breathe for you. This form of ventilation is used when the upper airway is obstructed or there is severe respiratory weakness and difficulty clearing secretions.

In addition, these general tips may help keep you well and lessen breathing and respiratory problems:

  • Avoid people who have symptoms of a cold or flu.

  • Get a flu shot each year and a pneumonia shot every 5 years.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about frequent coughing, breathing exercises, using medicines to control excessive salivation, and alternative therapies.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 10/1/2017
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