Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Breathing problems or shortness of breath is one of the common problems faced by people all across the world. According to the WHO, about 99% of people breathe polluted air globally. Pollution, apart from health issues, is one of the leading causes of various cardiovascular and lung problems. Apart from pollution, various health conditions can trigger diseases like dyspnea, which causes shortness of breath. In this article, we will address what is dyspnea, the various causes and symptoms of dyspnea and the possible treatment for the same.

What is Dyspnea?

Dyspnea is also commonly referred to as shortness of breath. The condition may be mild or severe and temporary or permanent. People may fall short of breath due to performing heavy exercises, running, dancing, etc. In such a situation, it may take a few minutes for the person to catch normal breathing. 

Such a condition of dyspnea is normal and temporary. A person with dyspnea may find it difficult to properly breathe and have a feeling of the inability of the lungs to breathe. It may be a sign of an underlying heart or lung problem.

Signs and Symptoms of Dyspnea

On average, most people have felt temporary dyspnea either due to intense exercises or certain physical activity. What is not normal is a condition when dyspnea persists for too long. So, let's see what are severe signs of dyspnea, which you must not ignore. 

If you have any of these symptoms of dyspnea, make sure to consult your doctor immediately:

  1. You fall short of breath easily. You may see a difference where now you experience shortness of breath too soon than you normally used to. It may hinder your activity and may even make you feel sick.
  2. A certain activities that were not tough for you earlier, seems too difficult for you to resist  such as climbing stairs, walking, lifting weights etc.
  3. In some cases, people may experience dyspnea without any known reason. One may be sitting comfortably doing no physical task and still feels short of breath.
  4. Chest tightness is another symptom of dyspnea. While breathing, you may feel tightness in your chest, which forces you to struggle even harder to get a deep breath.
  5. In some cases, people may also experience rapid breathing, sometimes accompanied by noisy breathing.

These are some of the common signs of dyspnea. If you or anyone around you complains of such symptoms, make sure to get a doctor's consultation and check-up done. Breathing problems must not be neglected.

Types of Dyspnea

Dyspnea can be of two types. Here are the types of dyspnea:

Acute Dyspnea

Acute dyspnea is the one that doesn't last longer, even if it occurs too soon. Due to certain physical exercises, allergies, cool, anxiety, etc., one may experience dyspnea. Heart attacks or blood clots (pulmonary embolism) may also trigger dyspnea. Once you are physically stable, the issue of dyspnea may also settle.  

Chronic Dyspnea

As the name suggests, chronic dyspnea is a condition where you experience shortness of breath for longer, maybe for days or weeks. It can be a sign of an underlying health problem like asthma or COPD, lack of physical exercise, depression, etc. You must get medical help immediately in such a situation.

Causes of Dyspnea

There can be a number of shortness of breath causes. If you are someone who exercises daily, you may experience temporary dyspnea. Here are some of the dyspnea causes for short-term breathing shortness:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Sudden heart failure
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pneumonia 
  • Collapsed lung, known as pneumothorax
  • Allergic reactions like anaphylaxis
  • Panic attacks
  • Extremely hot or cold temperatures
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Pleural effusion
  • A blood clot in the lungs known as a pulmonary embolism
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

For chronic dyspnea, the causes may differ a bit. Some of these causes are:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Obesity
  • Heart problems
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Lung cancer
  • Scarring of lung tissues, known as interstitial lung disease
  • Asthma. 

The exact cause can only be known after you consult your doctor.

How is Dyspnea Treated?

To get the right dyspnea treatment, you first need to know the causes behind it. If it is a short-term activity, the problem of shortness of breath will go on its own. However, if dyspnea stays for long or is recurrent, treating the root cause can only help the matter. So, depending on the diagnosis, the treatment may differ for different people. 

Some of the commonly referred dyspnea treatments are:

  • Tackle Obesity: Obesity is one reason behind dyspnea. If you are overweight, you must try to bring down your weight under a healthy limit. Through regular exercises and a healthy diet, the goal is achievable.
  • Breathing Techniques: After consultation, your doctor may recommend certain breathing techniques that can help improve your condition. It may be a breathing tool or certain exercises that you may be recommended to do.
  • Rehabilitation: Cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation also helps people with dyspnea. Those who have had heart failure or suffering from lung problems like COPD may feel short of breath. Through rehabilitation, the condition may be improved.
  • Medications: For certain health conditions (like COPD and asthma) that cause dyspnea, medications may be prescribed. It may include medicines like bronchodilators that help the airways and improve breathing.
  • Say NO to Smoking: Smoking is undoubtedly one of the most common causes of lung, heart, and breathing problems. Smokers are at high risk of experiencing chest tightness and shortness of breath. So, those experiencing dyspnea must avoid smoking and being around smoke.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Dyspnea on exertion, like running or intense exercise, is normal. The condition may last only for a few minutes. It is only in chronic dyspnea cases that the shortness of breath continues for a long. Make sure to not neglect these signs and symptoms, as you may not know the exact cause behind them without a medical diagnosis. 

Most of the problems can be treated when diagnosed early. So, consult your doctor on the matter without any delay. If you are an existing customer,  your healthcare provider Care Health Insurance is there to assist you with financial coverage in need of a medical emergency. If not you can allow our experts to connect with you to help with the insurance guidance to purchase the right health insurance plan for you and your family.

>>Also Read: What causes sudden chest pain at night?


1. The above information is for reference purposes only: Policy Assurance and Claims at the underwriter's discretion.

2. All plan features, benefits, coverage, and claims underwriting are subject to policy terms and conditions. Kindly refer to the brochure, sales prospectus, and policy documents carefully.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do you treat dyspnea naturally?

Acute or temporary dyspnea goes on its own once you physically relax. Sudden physical activity, intense exercise, or allergies may trigger temporary dyspnea.

Q. What foods are good for shortness of breath?

Ideally, a dietician should be able to help with the exact diet that you should follow. However, some foods that might help you would include:

  • Proteins, to keep your respiratory system and its muscles strong.
  • Black coffee to relax yourself and your muscles.
  • Foods with high quantities of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids could help people breathe better, especially for people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • Lung-healthy foods, etc.

Q. How long can dyspnea last?

Temporary dyspnea may last for a few minutes or until the allergy/infection lasts. Cases of chronic dyspnea can affect your breathing pattern for a long time until the underlying health condition does not relax.


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