Why Shortness of Breath Happens and What You Can Do About It

Why Shortness of Breath Happens and What You Can Do About It

Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, can be a very frightening experience.

You may feel like you can’t get enough air, and this can lead to feelings of anxiety and panic.

In this article, we will discuss the causes of shortness of breath and what you can do to alleviate the symptoms.

Before we get into the causes, it’s important to understand how breathing works.

Breathing is the process of moving air in and out of the lungs.

The air is taken in through the nose or mouth and then travels down the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs.

Once in the lungs, the air passes through tiny air sacs called alveoli.

The alveoli are surrounded by a network of tiny blood vessels called capillaries.

The oxygen in the air passes through the alveoli and into the bloodstream where it is then carried to all the cells in the body.

The carbon dioxide in the blood passes through the alveoli and is exhaled out of the body.

What is shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath, breathlessness, or dyspnea, is when you feel like you can’t get enough air.

It can be a feeling of tightness in the chest, gasping for air, or difficulty taking a deep breath. (1)

Dyspnea can be a symptom of many underlying different conditions and diseases, and it can also be a side effect of some medications.

There are two types of dyspnea: acute and chronic.

Acute dyspnea comes on suddenly and is usually caused by an infection, allergies, or exercise.

Chronic dyspnea is when you have shortness of breath that lasts for more than a month.

It is usually caused by an underlying lung condition, heart disease, or obesity. (2)

Why shortness of breath happens

There are many possible causes of shortness of breath.

Some of the more common causes include:

  • Anxiety or panic: When you feel anxious or panicked, your heart rate and breathing speed up. This can lead to a feeling of not being able to get enough air.
  • Intense exercise: Exercise uses up a lot of oxygen, which can cause you to feel short of breath.
  • Heart problems: Heart problems such as heart failure, heart attack, or heart arrhythmia can cause shortness of breath. (3)
  • Lung conditions: Conditions such as COPD, pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, COVID-19, and lung cancer can make it difficult to breathe. (4)
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy can cause shortness of breath due to the increased demand for oxygen from the growing baby. (5)
  • Obesity: Being overweight can make it harder to breathe because excess weight can put pressure on the lungs and chest walls. (6)
  • Smoking: Smoking damages the lungs and airways, which can lead to shortness of breath. (7)
  • Poor fitness: Poor fitness levels can make it harder to breathe because the lungs and heart have to work harder to get enough oxygen to the muscles.
Why  Shortness of Breath Happens

What can you do about the shortness of breath?

If you are feeling short of breath, there are a few things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms:

  • Sit down and rest: This will help reduce your heart rate and give your body a chance to catch up on oxygen.
  • Pursed lip breathing: This is a breathing technique that can help slow down your breathing and make it easier.
  • Deep breathing: Take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. In fact, this will help you to take in more oxygen and slow down your breathing. (8)
  • Use a handheld fan: The cooling effect of the fan can help to ease your breathing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: This will help thin the mucus in your lungs and make it easier to breathe.
  • Avoid smoking: Smoking can irritate the lungs and make it harder to breathe.
  • Avoid environmental pollutants: Things like dust, fumes, and chemicals can irritate the lungs and make it harder to breathe.

When to see a doctor

If you are experiencing shortness of breath that is severe or is accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, or fainting, you should seek medical attention immediately.

If you have chronic shortness of breath, you should make an appointment to see your doctor so they can determine the underlying cause.

Final thoughts on why shortness of breath happens

Shortness of breath is a common symptom, and while it is usually not serious, it can be a sign of a more serious condition.

The most common causes of shortness of breath are anxiety, heart problems, lung conditions, and obesity.

There are a few things you can do to ease the symptoms of shortness of breath, such as resting, pursed-lip breathing, and deep breathing.

If you are concerned about your shortness of breath, talk to your doctor.