The Main Cause Shortness of Breath When Lying Down, and How is it Treated?

Ever feel sudden asphyxiation while lying down? Maybe you’re experiencing orthopnea. Orthopnea is a respiratory problem that can occur in anyone and can cause serious health conditions. learn more about the main cause of shortness of breath when lying down, and How is it Treated.

What is orthopnea?

Orthopnea is a symptom of breathing difficulties that occur when a person lies on their back. Usually, when lying down you will have difficulty breathing until a cough and wheezing sound appear. Symptoms of difficulty breathing will immediately improve when changing the position to sitting or standing.

This condition can make it difficult for a person to sleep so they have to sleep in a sitting position or can be overcome by putting their chest and head higher when lying down by adding a pile of pillows. Although only a symptom, orthopnea is an important sign of worsening heart disease.

How can you asphyxiate while lying down?

Shortness of breath while lying down can be caused by the division of fluid levels in the body. When you lie down, fluid in the body will gather in the chest area thus increasing the pressure on the pulmonary blood vessels.

Well, this condition will cause disorders of the lungs when breathing. If you do not have a history of heart disease, usually this condition will not cause any problems.

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However, if you have had a heart attack or have a history of heart disease, fluid buildup in the chest area will make the heart not strong enough to pump blood throughout the body while lying down. As a result, the pressure in the pulmonary blood vessels increases and makes it difficult for you to breathe.

A person with a pulmonary disease can also experience orthopnea. Pulmonary disease suffered will cause mucus to be produced too much. A lot of fluid in the lungs will make it difficult to exchange oxygen gas with carbon dioxide in the small sac of the lung (alveoli). As a result, the amount of oxygen obtained is less and the body does not get enough oxygen. Therefore, you also have difficulty breathing while lying down.


What are the factors that can cause shortness of breath while lying down?

Some factors that can cause shortness of breath while lying down:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Serious pneumonia infection
  • Fluid buildup around the lungs (pleural effusion)
  • Fluid buildup around the abdominal cavity
  • Paralysis of the diaphragm (respiratory muscle disorder)
  • Experiencing sleep apnea
  • Snoring sleep
  • Narrowing of the respiratory cavity due to swelling of the thyroid gland
  • Experiencing anxiety disorders and stress-related disorders,

Besides, obesity can cause orthopnea. Indeed, obesity is not associated with fluid buildup, but the amount of fat in the abdomen will also affect the work of the lungs.

the main cause shortness of breath when lying down, and How is it Treated?

When should I worry about shortness of breath?

Medical emergency signs include:

  • Severe shortness of breath (inability to speak)
  • Allergic reactions
  • Chest pain, arm pain, excessive sweating (heart attack)
  • Weak pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Fast breath or heartbeat
  • If you experience this problem contact a doctor or medical assistance immediately.
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How do I sleep to avoid shortness of breath?

Consider sloping sleep with wedge pillows or adjustable bed frames to improve circulation and avoid shortness of breath. You can also add a pillow below the knee to help your body relax and provide extra support to your back and spine.

Another position to try is to lie slanted with a pillow between the knees. This way, your tongue won’t stop at the back of your throat and block your airways.

You can also try wearing a nasal strip and use a salt spray or nasal irrigation system to clear your sinuses before going to bed. For individuals with sleep apnea, using a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP) can relieve symptoms.


Ways to prevent shortness of breath

The first thing we need to do is reduce the number of bacteria in the mouth by following a good oral hygiene program. Brush your teeth after each meal, make sure you remove all food particles from between your teeth. If you drink alcohol or drink, make sure you flush it out of the system before going to bed.

There are also many over the counter products available that you can use to reduce the number of bacteria that live in your mouth. These products include sodium bicarbonate, which helps stop saliva production and also acts to strengthen the tissues in your mouth. Products containing chlorhexidine also help reduce mucus production.


How to relieve shortness of breath

If your shortness of breath is not severe, you can practice controlled breathing techniques such as lip breathing and diaphragm to improve your symptoms. You can also leave a fan in your room as it can relieve asphyxiation.

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When suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may recommend using CPAP or BiPAP (Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure) machines to relieve shortness of breath during sleep.

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How to deal with respiratory problems

Treatment depends on the cause of your breathing difficulties.

Respiratory infections

If you have a respiratory infection that causes breathing difficulties while lying down, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications to help clear the infection. However, in most cases, minor chest infections can be cured without the use of any medication.


You can relieve breathing difficulties for a while due to obesity by sleeping sideways. Lying slanted relieves pressure on the lungs due to being overweight.

Talk to your doctor about weight loss and ask about diet plans. Weight loss may help prevent future health problems linked to obesity.


There is no cure for COPD, but you can relieve breathing difficulties with a fast-working inhaler or other medication that people use to clear lung infections.

Sleep apnea

If sleep apnea makes it difficult for you to breathe while lying down, you may find that using a mouth guard or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is helpful.



If anxiety disorders cause respiratory problems, various treatments can help relieve symptoms. Some sets of psychological therapies can help you cope with anxiety.

Treatment usually involves therapy combined with antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs. These drugs are only available by prescription.

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