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Lucyprofilepic.jpgBy Lucy Marlow

Breathlessness can mean lots of different things to different people, but it’s something we all experience. Whether it’s running for the bus or running a marathon, we’ve all felt the sensation of being out of breath at one time or another.

For some people, being breathless can actually be a good thing. For an athlete, being breathless can be a representation of their body working at its hardest. But for others, who experience breathlessness far more regularly and for much less vigorous activities, being out of breath can have a really negative effect on their lives.

Take a moment to have a think about who might be negatively affected by breathlessness. You might say people who have problems with their lungs. And you wouldn’t be wrong; for people who have chronic lung conditions like lung disease and asthma, breathlessness is a big part of their lives.

But breathlessness negatively affects lots more people too. People with conditions ranging from heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, panic and anxiety disorders, through to cancer, all experience breathlessness. Feeling breathless all or most of the time (chronic breathlessness) can really affect what people can do, and how they feel. 

Here’s a little test we did with some members of the public. We asked them to complete some physical activity normally and then we asked them to do it again but this time the amount of air they could breathe was reduced (by using a nose clip and straw). It made them feel really breathless. We asked them to compare how they were feeling when they were breathless to when they felt OK, and to imagine what it would be like to feel breathless on a regular basis. Here’s some of what they said:

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Also, take a look at some of these other great descriptions of breathlessness collated by @AsthmaUK

Although breathless is something we all experience, some of us won’t give it a second thought. So next time you feel breathless, think about how it feels. Focus in on your lungs; how do they feel? Focus on your breathing; how does it sound? How does being breathless in that moment make you feel? Consider how often you feel breathless; is it common or rare? Remember, each person’s experience of breathlessness is different, so ask a friend and compare your descriptions. We’d love to hear your thoughts – tweet us @BreatheOxford or come chat with us in person at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in July!

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