Shortness of breath-symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment

What is shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, also known as lack of air, causes discomfort when you feel that your lungs are not getting enough oxygen, making it difficult to breathe.

In most cases, this condition is short-term, but if the symptoms persist for a long time, you should see a doctor immediately.

More about shortness of breath

A healthy adult inhales and exhales about 20 times a minute and breathes about 30,000 times a day. These numbers can change slightly if you have an intense training session or have a cold. However, shortness of breath may indicate otherwise serious and chronic health complications.

This is a general health concern, but if it persists, don’t ignore it. According to the Cleveland Clinic Continuing Education Center (CME), one in four individuals visiting the clinic is experiencing shortness of breath.

You may experience shortness of breath due to excessive exercise, excessive physical activity, or living in the highlands. It may also indicate an underlying health condition.

What are the symptoms of shortness of breath?

If you have difficulty breathing, you may experience the following symptoms:

What Causes Shortness of Breath?

Many health conditions and scenarios of concern can lead to shortness of breath. The following is a list of some of the most common causes of dyspnea (short term).

The causes of long-term shortness of breath are:

When should you see your doctor?

Shortness of breath should not be ignored as it may indicate a more serious problem. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Symptoms continue or worsen.
  • Using an inhaler does not give you peace of mind.
  • If you lie down, you will have difficulty breathing.
  • The ankles and feet are swollen.
  • You will hear gasping and wheezing while you breathe.
  • Have a fever.
  • You experience chills.

How can I prevent shortness of breath?

If you have difficulty breathing, you can follow these precautions to improve your overall health and reassure yourself.

  • If you smoke, you should quit
  • Avoid indirect smoking as much as possible.
  • Try to avoid exposure to environmental triggers such as wood smoke, smoke and pollutants.
  • If you are obese or overweight, try losing weight. It can help strengthen your respiratory and cardiovascular system while reducing great stress on your lungs and heart.
  • Take the time to do intense activities so that you don’t feel too stressed.
  • If possible, it is also wise to reduce exercise when you are out of breath.

What are the possible complications of shortness of breath?

Possible complications of shortness of breath include:

  • Shortness of breath can lead to hypoxemia or hypoxemia, a condition associated with low levels of oxygen in the blood. These conditions can cause a decrease in consciousness and subsequently cause other serious complications.
  • If you have severe dyspnea and it lasts for a significant period of time, you may be at risk of suffering from permanent or temporary cognitive impairment.

What are the treatment options for shortness of breath?

Your doctor may decide on your treatment plan, depending on certain important factors. This includes symptoms, underlying condition, and severity of the problem.

Widely used treatment options include:

  • If you experience shortness of breath due to excessive exercise or intense physical activity, don’t worry. If you stop and rest for a while, you will be able to breathe normally.
  • If you have more serious breathing problems, you may need oxygen supplementation to feel better.
  • If you have COPD or asthma, your doctor may recommend a rescue inhaler and bronchodilators. Your doctor will also talk to you and determine an individual treatment plan to help you prevent a severe dyspnea attack.
  • Breathing problems with COPD may be ameliorated by breathing techniques such as pursed lip breathing and muscle strengthening.
  • If your doctor diagnoses you have bacterial pneumonia, he / she may prescribe antibiotics to help you find relief.
  • Other medications that your doctor may recommend may include anxiolytics and NSAIDs.
  • Treatment depends on the underlying cause


Shortness of breath is not a problem to ignore. It can be treated if the underlying cause is diagnosed early. However, if left untreated, it can cause life-threatening complications.

If the doctor can identify the root cause of the problem, it can help improve and treat the symptoms. Examples: Non-severe asthma, pneumonia, etc.

However, breathing problems such as COPD, heart failure, and severe asthma are serious and require immediate medical attention. If medical assistance arrives at you on time, you can improve your outlook and lead a healthy life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do hypoxemia and hypoxemia mean the same thing?

Both hypoxemia and hypoxia are related to oxygen levels in the body. Also, because both of these terms are similar (in terms of spelling and pronunciation), they are often confused with different terms that have the same meaning. Hypoxemia and hypoxemia can occur simultaneously in your body, but these conditions are different. The former means that the oxygen content in the blood is low, and the latter means that the oxygen supply to the body tissues is low.

What posture helps with shortness of breath?

Here are two best places to help you find relief when you experience shortness of breath:

  • Lying down, place a pillow between your legs. Keep your back straight to the bed and use cushions to keep your head up.
  • Lying on your back, keep your knees bent and your head raised. You can do that by putting a pillow under your knees.

Both of these postures can relax the airways and body. Breathing will be easier and you will not be overwhelmed. However, if the problem persists, be sure to see your doctor.

What are the symptoms that may indicate low blood oxygen levels?

Below are the signs and symptoms of hypoxia in the blood.

What can happen if hypoxemia is left untreated?

Hypoxemia can damage brain and heart health if left untreated. It affects the brain and causes seizures and changes in consciousness. Heart problems include congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, and heart attacks.

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