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Shortness of Breath



Few sensations are more terrifying than not being able to breathe. Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnoea in medical terms, is commonly described as a tightening in the chest, trouble breathing, breathlessness, or a feeling of suffocation.
Shortness of breath, or feeling “winded,” can make taking a full breath difficult. You might feel as if you’ve just completed a sprint, a flight of stairs, or an aerobics workout. These sensations may be familiar if you exercise regularly, but they might be disconcerting when they occur outside of that environment. Shortness of breath can be a sign of a number of medical problems, including heart and lung problems. Continue reading to find out more about how the shortness of breath feels and what can cause it.

Symptoms of breathlessness

Overexertion can cause breathing issues in otherwise healthy people.
Shortness of breath known medically as dyspnea can happen as a result of overexertion,  time spent at a high altitude, or as a symptom of a variety of diseases and conditions that may all cause breathlessness.


Shortness of breath can be detected by the following signs:
  • Shortness of breath after exertion or due to a medical condition
  • Feeling smothered or suffocated as a result of breathing difficulties
  • Laboured breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
Shortness of breath that happens suddenly or with severe symptoms could indicate a significant medical issue.

What causes shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath is a fairly common symptom that can occur as a result of a variety of medical issues. If it lasts for hours to days, it’s termed acute. If it lasts longer than 4 to 8 weeks, it’s termed chronic.


Shortness of breath can be caused by anxiety, whether it’s brief and situational or a persistent disorder. Anxiety or a panic episode might be mistaken for a heart attack on occasion. However, you don’t have to be having a panic attack to be out of breath. This can also be caused by low-level anxiousness.


Shortness of breath can often occur due to other circumstances, such as:
• High altitudes
• Bad air quality, as a result of carbon monoxide or smog, for example
• Extreme temperatures
• Arduous physical activity


Dyspnea, on the other hand, is generally associated with medical issues. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of being out of shape, and exercise can help. Dyspnea, on the other hand, can indicate a major health problem.


Knots in your muscles, particularly those on trigger points, might make you feel out of breath.
Asthma, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, pneumonia, and psychogenic disorders, which are frequently linked to worry, are the most common causes of shortness of breath.

An acute instance of dyspnea occurs when shortness of breath occurs suddenly.

Acute dyspnea can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Asthma
  • Anxiety
  • Pneumonia
  • Choking on or inhaling something that blocks breathing passageways
  • Allergic reactions
  • Anaemia
  • Serious loss of blood, resulting in anaemia
  • Exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide
  • Heart failure
  • Hypotension, which is low blood pressure
  • Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery to the lung)
  • Collapsed lung
  • Hiatal hernia

Dyspnea is also common in patients who are nearing the end of their lives.

Chronic dyspnea is a condition in which a person has shortness of breath for more than a month.

Chronic dyspnea can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Asthma
  • COPD – Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Heart problems
  • Obesity
  • Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (a disease that causes scarring of the lung tissue)

Shortness of breath can also be caused by other lung disorders.

Here are several examples:

  • Croup
  • Traumatic lung injury
  • Lung cancer
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pleurisy (inflammation in the tissues surrounding the lungs)
  • Pulmonary oedema (when too much fluid collects in the lungs)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (when the blood pressure in the arteries to the lungs rises)
  • Sarcoidosis (when clusters of inflammatory cells grow in the lungs)

The following cardiac disorders have also been associated with shortness of breath:

  • Cardiomyopathy (a range of diseases affecting the heart muscle)
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Heart failure
  • Pericarditis (when the tissue that surrounds the heart becomes inflamed)

What triggers shortness of breath?

Asthma causes shortness of breath as a symptom.

Pollutants in the environment, such as chemicals, fumes, dust, and smoke, can make breathing difficult for patients with dyspnea.

People with asthma may have spells of breathlessness when exposed to allergens such as pollen or mould.

Tobacco smoking, for example, is self-administered and preventable pollution.

Different types of obstructive lung disorders are referred to as COPD. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two of them.

All of these factors make breathing quite difficult.

According to the COPD Foundation, while not everyone with breathlessness has COPD, 90 percent of people with COPD have smoked at some point in their lives.


Shortness of breath is linked to hypoxia, or low blood oxygen levels. This can result in a loss of consciousness as well as other serious symptoms.

There is a risk of either temporary or permanent cognitive impairment if dyspnea is severe and lasts for a long time.

It could also indicate the development or worsening of other medical issues.

When to call a doctor

The British Lung Foundation recommends talking with your doctor whenever you experience shortness of breath that isn’t expected due to your current activity and fitness levels. You should also contact your doctor if you don’t respond to treatment for shortness of breath.

Shortness of breath can sometimes indicate a life-threatening ailment.

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should get medical help right away:

  • Sudden onset of shortness of breath
  • Loss of ability to function due to dyspnea
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea

Although not all episodes of dyspnea necessitate immediate medical attention, shortness of breath might signal serious medical issues.

If a person has the following symptoms, they should seek medical advice:

  • A change in their ability to breathe
  • Increasing limits on their activities due to breathing problems
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Swelling in feet and ankles
  • Fever, chills, and a cough
  • Wheezing



A doctor can usually identify dyspnea based on a thorough physical examination and a detailed explanation of the patient’s symptoms.

A person must describe how and when their dyspnea attacks began, how long they last, how frequently they occur, and how severe they are.

To obtain a more specific diagnosis of dyspnea and assess the health of the person’s heart, lungs, and related systems, doctors may employ chest X-rays and computed tomography (CT) pictures.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) can reveal any indicators of a heart attack or other issues in the heart.

Spirometry tests are used to determine the patient’s lung capacity and airflow. This can assist in determining the kind and severity of a person’s respiratory difficulties. Additional tests can be performed to determine the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood as well as the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.


Shortness of breath is treated differently depending on the underlying cause. Following a medical examination and diagnosis, you may be prescribed one or more of the following treatments:
Medication. Your doctor may prescribe medications like bronchodilators to help you breathe easier or steroids to reduce swelling in your lungs.
Prescription supplements. If you’re anaemic, you may need to take prescription supplements to raise your iron levels.
Surgery. Surgery may be a treatment option for certain conditions, such as chronic blood clots or structural problems with your heart.
Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy. If you have an infection such as COVID-19, you may be given oxygen therapy to help support your breathing. You may also be given supportive drugs such as antiviral medications.
Antibiotics. If you have a bacterial infection, you may be given antibiotic medication.
Avoiding tobacco and allergy triggers. Your doctor may recommend that you quit smoking or avoid second-hand smoke to help you breathe more easily. It’s also important to avoid exposure to allergy triggers or other potential lung irritants.
Lifestyle changes. If obesity is a contributing factor, your doctor may recommend changing your lifestyle habits. This will likely include eating a balanced diet and exercising more often.
You can also attempt the following steps to help avoid and manage shortness of breath:
• Avoid strenuous physical activity above 5,000 feet unless you’re accustomed to a high altitude.
• Try not to overexert yourself.
• Get regular medical check-ups.
• Take all your prescribed medications exactly as instructed.
• If you’re on oxygen therapy, regularly check to make sure your equipment is working properly.


Smoking cessation or avoidance is critical for avoiding respiratory issues.

Dyspnea sufferers can take steps to improve their general health and increase their breathing space.

These are some of them:

  • Stop smoking
  • Whenever possible, avoid secondhand smoke
  • Other environmental triggers, such as chemical odours and wood smoke, should be avoided.
  • Losing weight can help strengthen the cardiovascular and respiratory systems by reducing stress on the heart and lungs and making exercise simpler.
  • At altitudes above 5,000 feet, take your time acclimating to higher altitudes, ease into activities gradually, and limit your exercise levels.

Effects on people

Shortness of breath can affect specific groups of people in different ways:


During pregnancy, mild dyspnea symptoms are commonplace.

This is because a woman’s lung capacity changes during pregnancy.

Although breathing capacity rises during pregnancy, lung volume decreases by up to 20% at the conclusion of each expiration.

The respiratory rate, or the number of breaths a woman takes per minute, does not usually change during pregnancy.

Older People, as well as those with major health problems

When people are in the advanced stages of some diseases, they may have shortness of breath.

Shortness of breath may be treated as part of a comprehensive end-of-life care plan at this time, as treating dyspnea with specific medicines may cause the patient unnecessary issues.


Acute dyspnea is a rather common childhood emergency caused by upper respiratory system diseases. They’re one of the most common reasons for shortness of breath in children.

Croup, foreign item inhalation, and epiglottis irritation are all common causes of dyspnea in children.


The prognosis for patients suffering from shortness of breath is dependent on the cause.

If the underlying ailment, such as pneumonia or mild asthma, can be successfully treated and resolved, breathing issues may be eradicated or considerably reduced.

Improvement may be limited if shortness of breath is caused by significant or chronic conditions that worsen with time, such as persistent heart failure, severe asthma, or COPD.

Dyspnea patients must collaborate with their healthcare providers to design and adhere to a complete treatment plan.