Respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19, affect your respiratory system, which in turn affects your breathing. It is very common for people recovering from COVID-19 to feel breathless.

Breathlessness is a feeling of uncomfortable or difficult breathing. It can make you feel anxious or scared and impact your daily activities and quality of life.

What does breathlessness look like in everyday life? 

During breathlessness, you may feel “winded,” which can make it difficult to draw in a full breath. You might feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs, and that you can’t do it quickly enough.

It may seem like you’re running short on oxygen. It may be difficult to inhale and exhale. Sometimes you might be compelled to draw a breath before you have even finished exhaling.

Symptoms that appear with shortness of breath may include:

  • A tight sensation in your chest
  • A feeling of suffocation
  • Feeling like you need to work harder than normal to catch your breath
  • Feeling like you need to breathe more often or more quickly
  • Feeling like your body can’t get oxygen quickly enough
  • Feeling like you cannot take full breaths
  • Difficulty fully catching your breath

Breathlessness may occur during normal/routine activities such as:

  • Walking up or down the stairs
  • Cooking or cleaning the house
  • Getting dressed
  • Any activities that need a lot of energy, such as running, exercise, playing sports, etc. are more likely to cause severe breathlessness

Management

Some strategies to help manage breathlessness during physical activities include:

  • Slowing down and pacing activities. Avoid rushing into things or doing work rapidly
  • Taking breaks between activities or during long or complicated activities
  • Finding a comfortable and relaxing position, such as sitting and leaning forward, to help breathe
  • Practicing relaxation and breathing exercises

Speak to a member of our interdisciplinary healthcare team if you’re recovering from Post-COVID and experience breathlessness during such activities.

When should I go to the emergency department?

Being short of breath isn’t the same thing as having trouble breathing. When you’re having difficulty breathing normally, you might feel like:

  • You can’t completely inhale or exhale
  • Your throat or chest is closing up or it feels like there’s a squeezing sensation around them
  • There’s an obstruction, narrowing, or tightening of your airway
  • Something is physically keeping you from breathing

Difficulty breathing is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

When should I speak to a
healthcare professional?

Breathlessness may cause you to feel scared and anxious and can impact your daily activities.

If none of the tips above seem to help, speak to a healthcare professional experienced in Post-COVID to discuss further options and management strategies.