Having shortness of breath is a common symptom reported by both children and adults. This article will focus on the meaning of shortness of breath, what it could suggest and what can be done.
Shortness of Breath Meaning
Dyspnea is the medical term for Shortness of breath, or breathlessness. It is when a person has trouble taking in enough air to breathe. Shortness of breath is the feeling that you cannot get enough air into your lungs.
It can signal an underlying health problem. Sometimes the feeling is worse when you are physically active or when you lie down flat. You may have other symptoms such as a cough or a fever.
When you have dyspnea, you might feel:
- Out of breath.
- Tightness in your chest.
- Hungry for air (you might hear this called air hunger).
- Unable to breathe deeply.
- Like you can’t breathe (suffocation).
Types of Shortness of Breath
Now that you know the meaning of shortness of breath, let us talk about the types there are.
Shortness of breath can be acute (sudden dyspnea) or chronic (long-lasting dyspnea). Acute dyspnea starts within a few minutes or hours. It can happen with other symptoms like a fever, rash, or cough.
Chronic dyspnea can make you feel out of breath with everyday tasks, such as walking from room to room or standing up.
Sometimes, shortness of breath gets better or worse with certain body positions.
For example, lying down flat can trigger shortness of breath in people who have certain types of heart and lung disease. Keeping track of your symptoms can help your doctor figure out what’s wrong and recommend the best treatment.
What Causes Shortness of Breath?
Shortness of breath is a respiratory symptom which has linked to several health conditions. The latest associations of shortness of breath is with the novel corona virus infection (COVID-19).
When you experience shortness of breath, it is very important to pay a visit to your doctor for proper check up to know the exact cause of your symptoms. Early detection can greatly improve outcomes of most health conditions and prevent unwanted complications.
Here are some the medical conditions that can cause both acute and chronic shortness of breath:
- Congestive heart failure.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Heart arrhythmia or heart attack.
- Heart diseases.
- Lung disease.
- Myasthenia gravis.
- Pulmonary edema.
- Pulmonary arterial hypertension.
- Pulmonary embolism
- Anxiety — whether acute and situational or a chronic disorder — can cause you to feel short of breath. Anxiety or panic attacks can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack.
Shortness of breath can often occur due to other circumstances, such as:
- High altitudes.
- Poor air quality, such as that due to carbon monoxide or smog.
- Temperature extremes.
- Strenuous exercise.
- Having knots in your muscles, especially on trigger points, can sometimes make you feel short of breath.
Diagnosing Shortness of Breath
Once you get to the hospital, your doctor will usually be able to diagnose shortness of breath based on a complete physical examination, in addition to a full description of your experiences.
You will need to explain how and when your symptom started, how long they last, how frequently they occur, and how severe they are.
Other examinations like an electrocardiogram (ECG) may help to show any signs of a heart attack or other electrical problem in the heart. Also, spirometry tests, used to measure airflow and lung capacity can help to pinpoint the type and the extent of an individual’s breathing problems. Additional tests can look at the level of oxygen in a patient’s blood, and the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.
Treating Shortness of Breath
A person who is short of breath due to overexertion will probably get their breath back once they stop and relax.
In more severe cases, supplemental oxygen will be needed. Those with asthma or COPD may have an inhaled rescue bronchodilator to use when necessary.
For those with chronic conditions, such as COPD, a health care provider will work with the individual to help them breathe more easily. This will involve developing a treatment plan that helps to prevent acute episodes and slow down progression of the overall disease.
If dyspnea is linked to asthma, it typically responds well to medications such as bronchodilators and steroids.
When it is due to an infection such as bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics can bring relief. Other medications, such as opiates, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and anti-anxiety drugs, can also be effective.
Breathing troubles stemming from COPD can improve with special breathing techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing and breathing muscle strengthening exercises. People can learn how to do these on pulmonary rehabilitation programs.
According to Dyspnea Lab, a research center specializing in shortness of breath, many people with dyspnea find that a gentle stream of cool air around the head and face helps improve their symptoms.
- Chest Foundation – Shortness of breath
- Mayo Clinic Staff – Symptoms: Shortness of breath. , Shortness of breath: Causes.
- Roth A, et al. (2018). Learn about shortness of breath.
- Wahls, S. A. (2012, July 15). Causes and evaluation of chronic dyspnea. American Family Physician, 86(2), 173-180