The complaint of breathlessness may affect as many as 20% of the adult population over the age of 65. Many factors may contribute to, or be the actual cause of, this symptom. Smoking history, problems with body mass both overweight and underweight, exposure to occupational pollutants, chronic cardiovascular disease, along with metabolic and lung issues, may all be a cause of or associated with, a complaint of breathlessness. In patients with COPD, the complaint of breathlessness may be present in at least half of the population, especially if their disease is moderate or severe.
Trying to relieve the symptoms of breathlessness in any patient can be challenging. A recent report has given me some new insight into something my patients have told me over the years. I have been told more than once by a patient that they relieve their breathlessness by sitting in front of a fan and that the cool air helps to relieve their symptoms. This recent study has found that triggering a cool/cold sensation in the nose can result in the sensation of increased airflow for the patient and relieve the symptom of breathlessness. I found this hard to believe until I remembered the stories about the use of fans.
The researchers used a chemical named L-menthol. The patient would smell this and it tricked their inner nose to feel that more air was flowing and, therefore, the patient felt less breathless. Testing showed that the airflow was the same but the patient felt better.