Some people with respiratory conditions will feel breathless when eating. If this is not addressed they will not enjoy food and may become under nourished or rely on unhealthy convenience food.

Try this true / false quiz about eating and breathlessness for some useful tips.

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Clear airways one hour before eating. True .Fewer secretions will aid better breathing

Do not take inhalers before a meal. False. Taking medication and inhalers before the meal can make breathing easier.

Planning meals in advance can help. True. Planning can help your patient/client to pace themselves when doing activities including cooking.

Lean over the table as you eat to help breathing. False. Eat while sitting upright to ease the pressure on the lungs and diaphragm. This helps lungs expand more easily. Breathe deeply while chewing.

Eat quickly to avoid breathlessness. False.  Rushing any task is bad for a person with a respiratory illness. Take small bites and chew food slowly. Try putting cutlery down between bites. This also avoids the possibility of choking on food.

Avoid very dry foods. True. Crusty bread or food without a sauce can be difficult if you are breathless

Try eating five or six small but healthy snacks a day or three smaller meals. True. Some people are put off eating when presented with too much food on the plate. Eating a larger meal can be very tiring if you are also breathless.

Take a fizzy drink before you eat. False. Avoid fizzy drinks, they make you feel full and are often unhealthy. Take small sips of non carbonated drinks as you eat but try drinking most liquids at end of meal

If possible eat with others. True. Eating is a sociable thing to do and having company means they are more likely to enjoy food.

For some people a dry mouth affects their eating, especially if they use oxygen, nebulisers or inhalers.

  • Choose soft, moist foods.
  • Suck fruit sweets, ice cubes made with fruit juice/sugar free squash and chew sugar free gum.
  • Have a bottle of water near by and take regular sips.
  • A doctor can prescribe pastilles or saliva sprays if this is an on-going or persistent problem.

If you are concerned that a patient/client is under or overweight contact your line manager or alert their respiratory nurse or GP for a possible referral to a dietician.

content provided by NHS Choices