Shortness of breath is also called dyspnea. It is a sensation when you start to feel like you cannot get enough air into your lungs, no matter how hard you try. This feeling could be short-lived or last for some time. In most cases, shortness of breath usually comes from exercise, stress, or asthma. However, it may also be a sign of many medical conditions. This article will discuss shortness of breath symptoms, causes, and some best home remedies.
Symptoms of Shortness of Breath
Common symptoms of shortness of breath include:
1. Dyspnea: Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is a common symptom of respiratory diseases. It is described as a feeling of being unable to get enough air into the lungs. It can be caused by various conditions and is often accompanied by chest tightness, wheezing, and a feeling of breathlessness.
2. Wheezing: Wheezing is a high–pitched whistling sound heard when breathing. It is caused by narrowed airways due to bronchoconstriction, inflammation, or a foreign body blocking the airways. Wheezing is often associated with shortness of breath and chest tightness.
3. Chest Tightness: Chest tightness is a common symptom of shortness of breath and can be caused by an underlying condition. It can be accompanied by a feeling of pressure or pain in the chest, as well as a feeling of breathlessness.
4. Palpitations: Palpitations are a feeling of rapid or irregular heartbeats that can be caused by conditions such as anemia, heart failure, or overactive thyroid. This can also be caused by anxiety and can be accompanied by shortness of breath.
5. Fatigue: Fatigue is a common symptom of shortness of breath and can be caused by an underlying condition such as anemia, heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can also be caused by activity levels that are too high or too low.
22 Common Causes of Shortness of Breath
1. Asthma: Asthma is a common cause of shortness of breath. It is a chronic lung condition in which the airways become inflamed and narrowed, making breathing difficult. Asthma can be triggered by environmental factors such as dust, pollen, smoke, and cold air. Symptoms may include wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
2. Bronchitis: Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, air pollution, or smoking. Symptoms may include a persistent cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
3. Emphysema: Emphysema is a lung condition caused by damage to the air sacs in the lungs. It is often caused by smoking. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, and difficulty breathing.
4. Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Symptoms may include a high fever, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
5. Pulmonary Embolism: A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lung. It can be caused by long periods of inactivity, such as bed rest or sitting for long periods of time. Symptoms may include chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath.
6. Cardiac Arrest: Cardiac arrest is a sudden loss of heart function. It can be caused by a heart attack, heart disease, or an abnormality in the heart’s electrical system. Symptoms may include loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
7. Anemia: Anemia occurs when the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. It can be caused by a lack of iron in the diet, a deficiency in vitamin B12, or problems with the body’s ability to absorb iron. Symptoms may include fatigue and shortness of breath.
8. Heart arrhythmia: Arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rate. If your heart rate is too fast, it can be hard for your heart to pump blood. You may feel short of breath when your heart doesn’t pump enough blood.
9. Coronary artery disease (CAD): CAD occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries and hardens. It can make it harder for your heart to pump blood, especially when exercising.
10. Anxiety: Anxiety is a feeling of fear or worry that can be caused by a variety of conditions. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest tightness, and rapid heartbeat.
11. Panic attack: A panic attack is when you feel like something terrible is happening to you, even though it’s not. When your panic attack, you may feel like you can’t get enough air, even if you’re breathing normally.
12. Stress-induced anaphylaxis: Stress can trigger anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. When stressed, your body releases chemicals that increase your blood pressure and cause your heart to beat faster.
13. COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases that cause breathing difficulties. It is typically caused by long–term exposure to irritants such as smoke, dust, and chemicals. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
14. Pulmonary Fibrosis: Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition that causes scarring in the lungs. It is often caused by long–term exposure to irritants such as asbestos, smoke, and dust. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, coughing, and fatigue.
15. Obesity: Obesity can increase your risk for heart disease and diabetes and cause shortness of breath. When you have excess weight in your body, it makes it harder for your lungs to expand and contract.
16. Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. An allergic reaction causes your blood vessels to swell, making it harder for your body to get enough oxygen.
17. Excess physical activity: When you exercise, your muscles produce lactic acid. This triggers your airways to swell, which makes it harder for you to breathe.
18. Dehydration: When you don’t get enough water in your system, it can increase carbon dioxide. Too much CO2 in your system causes your blood vessels to narrow, making it harder for your body to get enough oxygen. This causes you to feel like you’re taking short, deep breaths.
19. Hyperventilation: Hyperventilation is when you take quick, deep breaths. It can cause you to feel short of breath because you’re taking in too much oxygen and not enough CO2.
20. COVID-19: COVID-19 is an infection caused by the coronavirus. It can range from mild flu to more severe pneumonia. COVID-19 can cause headaches, high fever, muscle pain, and shortness of breath. In addition, some people may suffer from loss of taste or smell and dry cough, especially older people.
21. Pregnancy: During pregnancy, your body undergoes many changes, including increased blood volume. This is a positive change but can cause shortness of breath in some pregnant women.
22. Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea: Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND) is a sudden, often terrifying, episode of difficulty breathing that occurs while sleeping. PND is most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60. It is often triggered by respiratory illnesses like the common cold or the flu.
Home Remedies for Shortness of Breath
1. Medications: Shortness of breath can be managed with medications such as bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and anti–inflammatory drugs. These medications can help reduce inflammation and open up the airways.
2. Oxygen Therapy: Oxygen therapy is often prescribed to help improve the oxygen levels in the body. This therapy can be done using an oxygen mask or tank, a nasal cannula, or a ventilator.
3. Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise–based program that helps people with breathing problems improve their overall fitness level. It includes breathing exercises, strength training, and lifestyle advice.
4. Chest Physiotherapy: Chest physiotherapy is a type of treatment that uses manual techniques to help clear mucus from the lungs. It also helps improve breathing and reduce shortness of breath.
5. Breathing Techniques: Breathing techniques such as pursed–lip breathing can help reduce shortness of breath. This technique involves breathing in slowly through the nose and then pursing the lips as you exhale.
6. Positioning: Changing your body position can help reduce shortness of breath. Sitting up or leaning forward can help make it easier to breathe.
7. Quit Smoking: Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce shortness of breath. It can help reduce inflammation in your lungs and improve your overall health.
8. Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be needed to treat the underlying cause of shortness of breath. Surgery can help improve the function of the airways and reduce symptoms.
Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Shortness of Breath
1. Chest X-Ray: This imaging test can help diagnose lung diseases such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, or a blood clot in the lung, which can cause shortness of breath.
2. Pulmonary Function Tests: These tests measure how well the lungs work by measuring how much air is inhaled and exhaled and how quickly air can be moved in and out of the lungs.
3. Blood Tests: Blood tests can be used to assess oxygen levels, which can help diagnose anemia, a condition that can cause shortness of breath.
4. Cardiac Stress Test: This test measures how well the heart is working when it is under physical stress. It can be used to diagnose heart conditions that can cause shortness of breath.
5. Echocardiogram: This imaging test can diagnose heart conditions such as valve problems and cardiomyopathy, which can cause shortness of breath.
6. CT Scan: This imaging test can help diagnose lung diseases such as pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, or pleurisy, which can cause shortness of breath.
Medications for shortness of breath
1. Albuterol: Albuterol is a type of bronchodilator that is used to open up the airways and relieve shortness of breath. It works by relaxing the muscles of the airways, allowing for better airflow. It is available in both pill and inhaler forms.
2. Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are a type of steroid hormone that can be used to reduce inflammation in the airways. This can reduce symptoms of shortness of breath. Corticosteroids can be taken in pill form or administered via an inhaler.
3. Theophylline: Theophylline is a type of medication that is used to relax the muscles of the airways and improve breathing. It can be taken in pill form or administered via an inhaler.
4. Levalbuterol: Levalbuterol is a type of bronchodilator that is used to open up the airways and relieve shortness of breath. It works by relaxing the muscles of the airways, allowing for better airflow. It is available in inhaler form.
When to see a doctor?
If you experience any of the following symptoms along with shortness of breath, it is important to seek medical attention right away:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing when lying down
- Bluish tint to the lips or skin
- High fever
- Difficulty speaking
- Rapid heart rate
- Coughing up blood
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet