Bringing Breathlessness into View


An exploration of how it feels to be breathless by Ann Hutchinson


What is it like to feel breathless each day?

More than being unable to catch your breath for a few moments after say running for a bus…

Like breathing through material stuffed in your mouth

Like having your head in the clouds

Suffocating, smothering, stifling

Breathlessness is a near constant companion, a thorn in your side. More than a physical sensation of having difficulty breathing: a whole-person experience, an interpersonal experience, a spatial encounter.

You become very aware of your bodily sensations and your thoughts, feelings and actions…

Alone, worried, frightened, panicked, claustrophobic, limited

You become aware of places around you and slight slopes become hills, stairs scare you…

You become aware of others’ responses to you and your breathlessness…

Misunderstood, invisible, dependent, lost “But you look alright”

And how does this all sum together?

Depressed, overwhelmed, self-conscious, reliant, unnoticed

And how is it to be breathless now in the time of Covid-19?

What new words describe your experience now?

Confined, vulnerable, shielded, isolated

How do healthcare spaces feel now? How does it feel to think about needing to go to hospital? 

Places to be avoided if at all possible? Or places of safety?

Which fear is greater? The fear of going to the hospital and possibly catching Covid-19 or the fear of breathlessness overwhelming you as you struggle at home?


This exploration of how it feels to be breathless draws on the research of Ann Hutchinson and the Bringing Breathlessness into View exhibition.

For advice on how to manage breathlessness read the Guide to living well with breathlessness. All images are (c) rights reserved, The University of Hull.

The ‘Sensing Spaces of Healthcare’ project and ‘Senses and Modern Health/care Environment’ network are hosts for authors’ material. All views expressed in the above are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the project, network, funders or affiliates. The responsibility for clearing rights to publish images or quote sources lies with the authors. All copyright remains with authors, and unauthorised reproduction is prohibited in line with copyright law.