A woman reading in bed propped up on pillows

Patient Leader Preferences on Propping Up: Pillows or Recliner?

Last updated: September 2022

In a recent article, we asked our Asthma.net community members to share their preferences with us on a variety of topics. There are no right or wrong answers! We realized that sometimes the answers to those questions are not one or the other, and we were interested in learning more about the reasons people chose specific answers.

So we asked our patient leader team to share more about their responses to one of the prompts. "This OR That: To prop myself up and be most comfortable I prefer to use pillows OR reclining furniture." By asking the question in an open-ended way, the options for responses increased, and here are some of them! Can you relate?

What do our patient leaders prefer to use to prop themselves up? Pillows or reclining furniture?

Using reclining furniture to help with asthma symptoms

“When I was shopping for a new bed 3 years ago, I made a total impulse purchase and bought a mattress with an adjustable base. Since I am getting older, I thought having a bed that could raise my head and feet would be helpful at some point. Soon after my purchase, I had bronchitis and an asthma episode. I could not stop coughing. My rib cage, back, and lungs all hurt from struggling to breathe and the nonstop coughing. Lying flat made my symptoms worse. I raised the back of the bed. It helped a lot, more than I thought it would. My cough started to subside, and I was able to breathe a little easier. I started to feel less panicked and more relaxed, which helped reduce my symptoms even more. Having the ability to raise my head and back also made it easier for me to drink water, use my inhaler, and to get in and out of bed. Whenever I have nighttime symptoms, I raise the bed until I can breathe a little easier. I highly recommend sleeping in an adjustable bed or recliner.” – Lorene

“I’ve failed in the past managing nighttime asthma attacks, and I’ve tried a few different ways to make up for the plethora of episodes. One of the ways I’ve compensated was to sit up and sleep. The most difficult – as if sleeping on an airplane or a bus – where in the morning the kink in the neck is the worst and my back throbbed. Another way I tried to help myself was by remaining awake a while until the attack ended, and medicate away the symptoms. I then try and return to a blissful sleep all the while not getting a good night’s rest. A final way I tried to counteract and avoiding asthma issues was by propping up my pillows. I’ve discovered propping up pillows is subpar when trying to avoid an attack or at least lessen one. I had little success with a triangle pillow rolling off to the side, and as I am such a restless sleeper, propped pillows end up leveled out flat on the bed, twisted up and funky, and even on the floor at times, keeping me tossing and turning, wheezing and coughing.

I’ve had to really wrack my brain with ideas and come to a great resolve with regard to helping my asthma and other chronic conditions at night. This was when my husband and I purchased a bed that shifts to a no-gravity position. It also adjusts by lifting my head and feet in different positions and degrees making it easier on my lungs, reclined and at ease, to take in that deep breath. I‘ve never slept better in my life with asthma and this zero-gravity bed frame and mattress. When I find that I am having a horrible asthma week or month – I use my adjustable bed to ease the difficulty and sleep much better.” – Rebecca

Pillows to prop up

“To prop myself up and be most comfortable, I prefer to use pillows. Asthma prevents me from ever occupying a completely horizontal sleeping position, so I’ve tried every method for both my lungs (and me!) to be the most comfortable. As a naturally discombobulated sleeper, I like to prop up with a whole stash of pillows in my bed. My typical stack involves a wedge, 2 horizontally layered pillows with a vertical pillow on top, the vertical one arranged with an approximate 45-degree incline, and a perpendicular body pillow to support my ribs from all the not-so-fun nighttime coughing fits. If this sounds like some sort of architectural feat, I couldn’t agree more. I must entertain this detailed setup in order to get restful, non-symptomatic sleep, and it typically works wonders…until I have to get up.” – Corrine

“When I think of pillows, I think of my warm and comfortable bed. When I think of reclining furniture, I think of my parent’s hideous brown sofa. Their sofa is the only piece of reclining furniture that I have had any experience with, and I do not find it comfortable at all. I personally think it is very rigid and only allows me to lean back or to one side. I prefer to use pillows as they mold to my shape and are pliable, so if I am not comfy, they only require a small amount of adjusting. I believe pillows are easier to maintain than a reclining sofa: I only need to pop them in the washing machine if I spill a cup of tea down them… yet again. However, the most convenient thing about using pillows is that if I am in no fit state to do anything because I am having a particularly bad flare-up, it is easy for other people to use pillows to help prop me up.” – Nicola

Both work!

“I used the pillow method for a long time. I called it my 'nest' because I basically surrounded myself with pillows, each with a very specific purpose. Pillows can be tricky sometimes, though. It’s not always easy to get them in the right position, or they bunch up funny as the night goes on. I came up with a pretty good system though and was easily able to prop myself at a good angle.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to invest in an adjustable bed. Let me just say that it is one of the best investments I have ever made. It is so much easier to get myself in a comfortable position and I can adjust the level of my head at the push of a button. This is particularly convenient in the middle of the night; I no longer have to sit up and adjust pillows to get comfortable. I never sleep with my bed all the way down though. I’m always at a slight incline because it can help with breathing and reduce acid reflux. When I’m in the middle of an asthma exacerbation, I sleep at an even larger incline because it allows my airways to open up a bit more and makes breathing easier. I highly, highly recommend an adjustable bed if you can afford it.” – Christy

“Do I lay down or sit up to be comfortable when having asthma? I just want to be motionless. Moving around makes me cough. I tend to lay on the couch propped up with pillows. I have a vibrating adjustable bed, so I use that when in bed. Finding just the right angle to situate is important for me. That helps to keep the cough at bay. Finding the perfect position is key. It is important for me to be upright when I do need to cough. Having just enough angle, sitting more or less straight up. This helps keep my airways open.” – Linda

What do you prefer for your asthma?

Do you use pillows or a piece of reclining furniture to help manage your asthma symptoms or relieve some discomfort? Share your personal preference of what works best for you in the comments section, or share your story by clicking the button below.

Editorial note: Propping up is not a medical treatment for asthma. Only you and your doctor can decide how to best treat your asthma symptoms. If you don't already have one, we recommend you create an asthma action plan with your doctor.

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