Shortness of Breath: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Shortness of Breath causes, symptoms, and treatment

Many older adults attribute their shortness of breath to their age. The truth of the matter is that aging alone is not what causes shortness of breath.

Learn more about shortness of breath, including the signs and symptoms, so that you can identify and treat it as quickly as possible.

What is Shortness of Breath?

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is extreme tightness in the chest that causes a feeling of suffocation.

If you have unexplained shortness of breath, especially if it comes on suddenly and is severe, it’s important that you see your doctor.

Causes of Shortness of Breath

If getting older isn’t what’s causing your shortness of breath, what is?

The most prominent causes of shortness of breath are preexisting heart and lung conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Asthma, low blood pressure, and Abnormal Heart Rhythm Disorder.

Other complications that can lead to shortness of breath include carbon monoxide poisoning, cardiac tamponade, a history of heart attacks, pneumonia, and upper airway obstruction.

For a full list of causes of shortness of breath, please visit the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Symptoms of Shortness of Breath

How do you know whether or not you’re experiencing shortness of breath?

Some of the common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Anxiousness
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing & wheezing
  • Neck pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Swelling in your feet or ankles
  • Trouble breathing when you lie down
  • Fever & chills
  • Lips or fingertips turning blue

If you notice that you or a loved one are experiencing one or many of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.

The earlier you can identify shortness of breath, the more effective treatment can be.

Treatment for Shortness of Breath

Luckily, you can alleviate your shortness of breath with the help of a few different treatments!

Your doctor may recommend medication or other medical care. In addition to that, below are a number of recommended lifestyle changes as well as self-care options for those experiencing shortness of breath.

Lifestyle Changes

Stop Smoking

Once you stop smoking, your breathing – and overall health – will improve dramatically. Learn more about the health benefits of quitting smoking.

Avoid Breathing in Toxins

Be sure to clean your home and workspace (with toxin-free cleaning supplies), avoid other smokers, and surround yourself with plants that absorb carbon dioxide and other air pollutants.

Lose Weight If Necessary

Being overweight causes excess fat to push on your diaphragm and chest walls, making it harder for your lungs to function properly.

Regularly Monitor Oxygen Equipment

If you rely on oxygen supplementing equipment, such as an oxygen concentrator, be sure to follow instructions for regular maintenance and parts replacement to ensure it’s working properly.

Self Care

Breathing Exercises

Pursed-lip breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, rib stretches, and numbered breathing are some of the top breathing exercises that are shown to improve lung capacity. Learn other effective ways to increase your lung capacity.

Sleeping in a Relaxed Position

Many people experience shortness of breath while sleeping, often due to the position in which they lie. Try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs and your head elevated by pillows. Or, lie on your back with pillows elevating your head and knees. These positions will create more room in your airways, which makes it easier to breathe.

Use a Fan

A study by the National Center of Biotechnology Information found that cool air can improve shortness of breath. Utilize a personal fan at home and at work to help improve your breathing throughout the day and while you sleep.

Breath Easier!

Shortness of breath is not only very common, but also a very serious issue. The quicker you can spot the signs and symptoms, the sooner you can seek treatment to limit the impact that shortness of breath has on you and your lifestyle!


What other topics are you hoping we’ll cover over the next few months? Tell us on Facebook!