Short of Breath After Eating

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Dear COPD Coach,

Why do I feel so short of breath after eating? More than a few times after eating out, I was so short of breath I could barely walk to my car. I love good food, but I am beginning to feel that it isn’t worth the pain of not being able to breathe.


Dear Breathless,

Feeling bloated or out of breath after a large meal is not uncommon with people who have COPD. There are actually a couple reasons why this occurs. When we eat a large meal we require more energy to digest what we eat and experience more pressure on our chest and diaphragm. The result is we experience shortness of breath.

For many, COPD causes our lungs to become hyper-inflated, which means they take up more room in our chest. This results when air gets trapped in damaged areas of the lungs. When our stomach is filled, it can actually push against the lungs causing us to feel out of breath.

So, what is the answer? It is really quite sensible. Eat several small meals throughout the day. If you are at or below ideal body weight, eat foods that are high in calories. Avoid salt as much as possible since salt can cause you to retain fluid, feel bloated, and increase the workload on your heart. Avoid simple carbohydrates as these cause CO2 build-up in your blood causing less available oxygen. If you do eat foods containing carbohydrates, keep to complex carbohydrates like those found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread.

For some individuals with COPD, the simple act of breathing takes more calories than what we are able to take in. The result of this is either chronic weight loss or the inability to gain weight. People experiencing this should eat snacks loaded in calories. While not considered healthy for “normal” people, these foods might be something like pudding made with whole milk, cheese that is not “reduced” or “low fat,” eggs, and buttered popcorn. If eating dairy foods (a problem for some with COPD as they can result in more mucus) drink plenty of water afterwards. Fried, greasy and spicy foods, carbonated soft drinks, and certain vegetables can also cause bloating.

If you require oxygen, be sure to use it while eating. This will help you get less short of breath and also aid digestion.

If you still want to go out and have a nice meal, here are some tips that will make your meal easier and more comfortable:

  • Restrict foods that can cause bloating like raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Try to eat foods that you don’t have to chew as much like mashed potatoes or soup.
  • Eat slowly, taking time between bites.
  • Don’t rush off after you eat. Take some time to not only digest, but also to enjoy the company and the experience.
  • Once again, if you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you use it when you are eating!

There is no reason a person with COPD cannot go out and enjoy a meal with family or friends. Be sensible, allow yourself plenty of time, and have a great time!

-The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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  • This was very informative. I have always noticed that I feel short of breath after meals too and wondered if it was because I was not breathing while chewing, I have never really liked carbonated drinks so going to keep these tips in mind.
  • I've been doing totally opposite of this article lately and feeling the effects. Im Going to follow some of this good advice!
  • Thanks for the tip, I get bloated when I eat me. I feel great when I eat soup..It's music to the stomach.
    Especially the creams..
    • Watch the salt. Canned soups have loads of salt.
  • Great advice. I have been struggling with this. I now wear 02 while eating and it helps. It seems like my food goes down easier too.
  • Good information..

  • This information makes me feel better, I've been wondering why I can't seem to eat much anymore and this gives helpful information about what to eat

    • Can anyone using Oxygen,please share your diets..e.g. I love sandwiches,with lettuce tomato,o noon,cheese,hot pepper,on toast with Mao& lime,or miracle whip..very filling,problem is bloating immediately after..
    • In answer to Whylene McCray's reply to Joybhere: I don't use oxygen, however, I found that eating sandwiches made with bread (doesn't matter what kind of bread - whole wheat, rye, etc.), is a cause of the bloated feeling. I now use flour or corn tortillas instead of bread for making sandwiches, even though I'm not fond of "sandwich wrap" style sandwiches. Alternately, if I do use bread for a sandwich, I only eat half of the sandwich, and save half for another meal.

  • Very informative article, thank you. My husband's appetite has been decreasing over the past year, I thought it might be partly his age (76) but now I can see it isn't just that. He has been asking for soup for dinner recently, followed by a cup of tea. He used to eat 3 rounds (six slices) of sandwiches until a few months ago, but now can barely get through 2 rounds.
  • I would just like to say that eating and swallowing uses muscles that need oxygen so >>> Once again, if you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you use it when you are eating! >>> and try raising you O2 to a higher dose before starting your food to compensate the O2 you need when chewing and swallowing etc >>>> it works for my wife on Stage 4 COPD >>> UK Mike
    • Mike , I keep mine on 2, Again I am going to listen to you and move it up when I eat to . Give your wife my best. You two are so blessed to have each other. I have a new prescription of Anora, it has never been used, I had tried it up North and for me my digestive system didn't seem to agree with it. After 2 weeks of nothing moving out of my Intestine track , I am not going to use it. Is their a place that could take it and give to someone who needs it?
  • My husband's appetite has returned which is just as well, as he has lost 10 kg in six months. We've been told that emphysema will do that in its final stages, the weight just drops off. It is a waiting game now.
  • Great info, everyday is a learning experience and this site is so wonderful!
  • One thing to avoid is carbonated beverages, like soda and adult beverages like beer. Doing that not only avoids that bloated feeling, but is probably good for overall health, IMO.

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