Shortness of breath
Causes, Symptoms, & When to contact a Doctor

Symptoms of shortness of breath include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing, often linked to anxiety or COVID.

Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is when you feel uncomfortable or have trouble breathing. It's not a specific condition but rather a sign that something might be going on with your breathing or heart. This feeling can happen in different situations and for various reasons, involving how your body works, your emotions, or your surroundings.

Think of shortness of breath like a signal your body gives you, telling you that something might need attention. It can show up in different ways, giving clues about what might be causing it. Here are a few examples of how shortness of breath might feel for you:

  • With Constant Yawning: Sign of insufficient oxygen intake, possibly related to respiratory issues like asthma or chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • With Fatigue: Often indicative of anemia, heart problems, or chronic respiratory diseases.
  • While Lying Down (Orthopnea): Associated with heart failure, pulmonary edema, or specific respiratory conditions.
  • With Allergy symptoms Allergic reactions triggering breathlessness, especially in individuals with asthma or allergic respiratory conditions.
  • When Bending Over: Linked to factors such as obesity, musculoskeletal issues, or hiatal hernia.
  • With Digestive Issues: Hiatal hernias causing diaphragmatic pressure and subsequent breathlessness.
  • With Back Pain: Combination indicative of spinal problems, lung conditions, or cardiac concerns.
  • During exertion May indicate underlying respiratory or cardiovascular issues.

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Common causes of shortness of breath are panic attacks, labored breathing, exercise, and medical conditions like dyspnea or respiratory infections.

Dyspnea (shortness of breath) may stem from lung-related problems like asthma or infections, or heart-related issues such as heart failure. Other factors like excess weight, muscle or bone issues, and psychological factors like anxiety or stress can also contribute. Infections like pneumonia and blood-related problems like anemia may play a role, as can allergies, particularly if coupled with asthma. The most important causes are listed below.

Essentially, when experiencing shortness of breath, it serves as a warning to pay attention, as there may be diverse factors at play that warrant investigation. In the case of cold-, asthma- or allergy related shortness of breath, here are some remedies you could try:

  • for Colds: Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest; Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air; Over-the-counter cold medications may provide relief.
  • for Asthma: Follow prescribed asthma management plans; Use inhalers or nebulizers as directed by healthcare professionals; Identify and avoid asthma triggers, such as allergens or irritants.
  • for Allergies: Identify and avoid allergens causing the reaction; Take antihistamines or other allergy medications as recommended; Consider using air purifiers to reduce indoor allergens.
  • Upper respiratory infection: The flu or a serious cold, can lead to shortness of breath.
  • COVID - 19 infection: Shortness of breath is a common COVID-19 symptom; Testing is important. Keep an eye out for symptoms like a reduced ability to smell.
  • Anxiety or Panick attacks: Due to hyperventilation you can feel short of breath. Mental health assessments help differentiate anxiety-related symptoms.
  • Acid Reflux: Digestive issues like acid reflux can lead to shortness of breath. Reducing coffee intake and fatty foods can alleviate these symptoms.
  • After a COVID - 19 infection: Post-COVID-19 syndrome, refers to lingering symptoms that persist after the initial illness, requiring ongoing medical attention.
  • Heart conditions: Heart failure, arrhythmias, heart valve issues or other cardiac problems can cause shortness of breath.
  • Other Lung conditions: Such as Asthma, COPD or other more rare lung disorders.
  • After Surgery: Postoperative causes include anesthesia effects or changes in lung function.

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Effective shortness of breath treatments involve managing anxiety, improving breathing techniques, and seeking medical advice for persistent issues.

Knowing when to promptly seek medical attention for symptoms of shortness of breath is vital for timely intervention.

Identifying potential risks and recognizing warning signs can guide individuals in understanding when urgent medical care is necessary in certain underlying issues (for example a popcorn lung, pneumothorax or cardiac problems)

  • Lung conditions run in your family.
  • You smoke more than 5 sigarettes a day.
  • You are over 55 years old.
  • Back Pain and Shortness of Breath: The combination may suggest serious issues requiring immediate attention.
  • Chest Pain and Shortness of Breath: This could be a possible indicator of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, especially if radiating to the arm or jaw.
  • Heart Palpitations and Shortness of Breath: Interconnected symptoms that could suggest cardiovascular issues or heightened anxiety.
  • Cyanosis: Bluish discoloration of the lips or face.

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