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Feeling a Shortness of Breath? Try These Natural Treatments

Are you suddenly experiencing shortness of breath? Find out more about what it could mean and how to treat this symptom.

A young Asian woman holding her neck and chest while having trouble breathing. 

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnoea, is when you feel like you aren’t taking enough air into your lungs. Because of this difficulty, it can be an uncomfortable experience. It may also be a symptom of many health conditions, specifically, heart or lung disease.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), coming across laboured breathing indicates you have Qi Deficiency. It’s when there’s insufficient nutritional energy from food after digestion and absorption in your body, which affects your body’s nourishment.

Factors such as your lifestyle choices may have a negative effect on your Spleen and stomach function. This could cause fatigue, puffiness, a poor complexion, and shortness of breath.

If you’re not sure whether you have this condition, keep scrolling to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Symptoms and Causes of Shortness of Breath

A woman taking a break while running due to shortness of breath.
One cause of short-term dyspnoea is strenuous physical activity.

Having shortness of breath or difficulty breathing could last for a minute or two after being physically active or it could be a chronic symptom. There are two different stages of the condition, one being mild (where you are aware that an inadequate amount of air is going into your Lungs), and the other severe. This is when you’re feel like you’re suffocating.

It’s normal to experience short-term dyspnoea after a hard workout, but having difficulty breathing sooner than usual after exercise indicates something more serious. If this happens without an explanation, you should see a healthcare professional.

Other health conditions which can cause short-term dyspnoea are: 

  • A blood clot in the Lungs 
  • Sudden heart failure 
  • Severe change in temperature 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 
  • A severe allergic reaction 
  • Physical injury to the lungs 

Meanwhile, chronic dyspnoea can occur if you have the following: 

  • Chronic bronchitis 
  • Fluid in the chest or pleural effusion 

Asthma is one condition that can cause both short-term or chronic dyspnoea, depending on a person’s condition.

According to TCM, people who are prone to shortness of breath tend to have these lifestyle habits: 

  • An improper diet. When you go through excessive hunger, overeat, or have meals irregularly, it weakens the Spleen and stomach, creating an abnormal circulation of qi and blood as well as insufficient qi.  
  • Be physically and mentally overworked. Feeling this way results in having a bad temper and a Spleen Deficiency causes the biochemistry of qi and blood to be passive. When this happens, the limbs aren’t nourished, causing symptoms such as a lack of energy and feeling mentally fatigued.  
  • Have a genetically weak constitution. A weak foundation and constitution cause the Spleen and stomach to weaken if you don’t properly take care of yourself, resulting in insufficient qi

Treatments for Shortness of Breath

A flat-lay of healthy foods on a platter and gym equipment.
One way to treat dyspnoea is to take on healthier habits such as eating a balanced diet and being physically active.

Sticking with a balanced diet 

Eating right has many benefits for your body. From choosing whole grains, legumes, and fish to nutrient-filled fruit and vegetables to name a few, you’ll be boosting your immune system. You’ll also significantly lessen the risks of obesity, stroke, heart disease, and certain types of cancers. 

A study published in Nutrients showed that having a healthy, balanced diet is recommended for managing respiratory health and COPD. The Mediterranean diet is one that stood out among the rest during research. Its ingredients such as fish, legumes, fresh fruits and poultry can be added to your meals as a feasible starting point for building a healthy eating pattern. 

Use TCM herbs

Along with integrating fatty acids, fibre, phytochemicals, and vitamins into your diet, it would also be beneficial to incorporate TCM herbs into the lineup.  
Because of Qi Deficiency, certain TCM herbs can be taken to strengthen your digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body. Ginseng (ren shen, 人参), Codonopsis (dang shen, 党参), Astragalus root (huang qi, 黄芪), Chinese yam (huai shan, 淮山), and jujube (da zao, 大枣) in particular, are known for invigorating qi. 

Dried red dates in a wooden bowl and scattered on a table.
Red dates are great for nourishing qi.

A recent case report found that ginseng and other Chinese medicine were efficient in relieving COVID-19 patients with symptoms as well as rescuing a patient from acute respiratory dyspnoea syndrome (ARDS).

Try this drink recipe to feel energised. It also has a moisturising effect on your skin.

American Ginseng Pear Drink Serves 4 )


25g Laoshan American Ginseng

2 Sydney pears (peeled, washed and diced)

3 candied dates

Sugar or sweetener to your taste

2 litres of water

Wash all the ingredients, place them in an electric pot and cook for about one hour. Drink and enjoy.

Exercising regularly 

Another way to help reduce symptoms of dyspnoea is through exercising more frequently. In order to avoid overexertion, going slow and steady would be a good start.  
If you have a medical condition that you believe may hinder your activity level, consult your doctor for a safe exercise routine.

Undergoing acupuncture 

A popular, traditional Chinese practice used by many around the world as a form of treatment, acupuncture can be used to ease shortness of breath. Its focus on tonifying the body’s qi, Lungs, and Kidneys as well as releasing chemicals that dilate the airways makes it easier to breathe.  
A study from 2020 in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management proved that acupuncture improved the severity of breathlessness in patients with advanced diseases.  
Other ways to treat dyspnoea would be through pulmonary rehabilitation (if you have COPD or other lung conditions) or cardiac rehabilitation (if you have heart failure or any heart-related conditions). 
It’s important to understand if the shortness of breath you may be experiencing is an underlying symptom of another health condition. If you think there’s a problem, have a medical professional evaluate you and take the time to mull over your lifestyle for a better, healthier you. 
Did you take a different approach to address your shortness of breath? Let us know in the comments below. 

This is an adaptation of the article “气虚” which first appeared on the Health123 website.


  1. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine. 2022. Chinese Medicine Rescues Acute Respiratory Dyspnea Syndrome Caused By COVID-19: A Case Report. [online] Available at <https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11655-021-3333-6.pdf> [Accessed on 27 January 2023]
  2. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2020. Acupuncture for Breathlessness in Advanced Diseases: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. [online] Available at <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2019.09.007> [Accessed on 27 January 2023]
  3. Nutrients. 2019. Role of Diet in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Prevention and Treatment. [online] Available at <https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061357> [Accessed on 27 January 2023]

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