Shortness of breath, shortness of breath: What are the causes and the solutions?

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, occurs when a person feels they are unable, or less able than usual, to get enough air into their lungs. The feeling of shortness of breath is subjective. For example, some people may describe this sensation as a feeling of suffocation. For others, they may feel unable to take a deep breath. Whatever the exact description, shortness of breath is uncomfortable and can lead to other symptoms or complications. Shortness of breath can occur occasionally or frequently, and there are many potential causes.

Main causes of shortness of breath

Many people experience shortness of breath during and after exercise. It can also happen due to changes in altitude or temperature. Usually, however, there is more than one cause for shortness of breath.

Shortness of breath has a wide variety of possible causes. The most common are:

– anxiety
– asthma
– heart failure
– interstitial lung disease
– pneumonia
– chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

People can also be short of breath in certain settings. The sections below discuss these contexts in more detail.

During pregnancy

Some people are short of breath during pregnancy. Shortness of breath can occur in early and late pregnancy, but for different reasons. In early pregnancy, shortness of breath may be due to an increase in progesterone. This increase in progesterone can cause you to breathe more often. An increase in the respiratory rate can lead to a feeling of shortness of breath.

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Later in pregnancy, the growing uterus can put pressure on the lungs. This growth of the uterus can lead to a decrease in the full expansion of the lungs and a feeling of shortness of breath.

When to contact a doctor

A doctor should be contacted if she is pregnant and experiences shortness of breath at the same time:

– rapid heart rate
– heart palpitations
– dizziness
– chest pain
– bluing of the lips, fingers or toes
– persistent cough
– spitting blood
– fever or chills
– worsening of asthma

In the child

Shortness of breath can also develop in children. Shortness of breath in children may be due to physical exercise. However, it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition, including:

– asthma
– lung disease
– a heart problem
– a pneumonia

When to contact a doctor

A doctor should be contacted if a child is short of breath and:

– begins to wheeze
– cannot sleep due to shortness of breath
– is short of breath at rest

In older adults

Aging does not, in and of itself, cause shortness of breath. However, older people have an increased risk of developing certain conditions that can cause shortness of breath.
For example, advanced age is a risk factor for conditions such as congestive heart failure and COPD, both of which can cause shortness of breath.

When to contact a doctor

An elderly person should contact a doctor if they are short of breath and have the following symptoms

– chest pain or discomfort
– dizziness or fainting
– difficulty breathing at night
– significant or worsening edema
– spitting blood

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Common triggers for shortness of breath

What triggers shortness of breath in some people may not trigger it in others. However, some common triggers include:

– Exercise: Physical exertion, such as exercise, often causes increased breathing and possibly shortness of breath.

– Intense emotions: Strong emotions, such as fear or panic, can lead to difficulty breathing and feelings of shortness of breath.

– Altitude change: atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases. Due to this reduced air pressure, the volume of air a person inhales contains fewer oxygen molecules, causing the body to work harder to breathe. Although it can vary, altitude levels of 5000 feet and above can cause changes in breathing, including shortness of breath.

– Environmental pollutants: Inhaling certain fumes, pollutants and chemicals can irritate the lungs. Once irritation occurs, narrowing of the airways and inflammation may develop, leading to shortness of breath.

You should contact a doctor if you have:

– shortness of breath at rest
– shortness of breath that wakes them up
– shortness of breath after light activities
– fever
– tightness in the throat
– wheezing
– a barking cough

Treatment of shortness of breath

Treatment for shortness of breath depends on the cause. For example, when a medical condition causes shortness of breath, treatment will involve managing the underlying condition to reduce symptoms. Treatment may also include making certain behavioral changes, such as:

– exercise regularly, if possible
– stop smoking, if necessary
– reduce exposure to pollutants


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