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Breathing Shortness (Breathlessness, tight chest or wheezing)

Breathing shortness or dyspnea (medical term) refers to the condition when you feel lack of air in the lungs. You can feel tight chest and gasp for more air or work hard to inhale. Both lungs and heart are responsible for breathing shortness.

What’s breathing shortness?

Breathing shortness is the condition in which patient lacks from air in the lungs. They breathe harder or gasp more to inhale while experiencing tight chest at the same time.

This condition is the symptom of lung and heart problem. But it can act warning sign for conditions like anxiety, allergies and asthma too. Catching a cold or intense workout can also feel you breathless.

What are kinds of breathing shortness?

There are two kinds of breathing shortness- sighing dyspnea and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. The former one refers to your deep sighing with deep breaths for feeling the relief of dyspnea. PND refers to condition when you are not able to breathe for a couple of hours post falling asleep.

What is chronic and acute breathing shortness?

There is a vast difference within acute and chronic breathing shortness.

Chronic dyspnea

This breathing shortness is going to last for long (several weeks and more). It can come back often too. Existing health complexities such as COPD, heart failure and asthma result in chronic dyspnea. Lack of exercise also makes you experience breathless as the muscles want more oxygen.

Acute dyspnea

It takes place all of a sudden and doesn’t last for long usually for a few hours to some days. Exercise, anxiety, allergies and illness such as flu or common cold result in this condition. Several serious complications such as narrowing of airway (anaphylaxis), blood clot (pulmonary embolism) and heart attack can cause this condition.        

Who suffers from breathing shortness?

Breathing shortness is quite common. However, you can experience breathing shortness because of lack of exercise. Other patients with the following conditions can suffer from breathing shortness too.

What are symptoms of breathing shortness?

Breathing shortness symptoms will vary from a person to another because of the exact cause behind this experience. However, some common signs are:

What are causes of breathing shortness?

Health conditions, illnesses and exercise can result in breathing shortness. Most usual dyspnea causes are lung and heart conditions. 

What are the risk factors for breathing shortness?

If you have any of the following issues then you are more likely to experience breathing shortness:

How lung and heart problems can result in breathing shortness

Lungs and heart function together for transmitting the oxygen in the tissues and blood by removing carbon dioxide. If any of them starts malfunctioning then you will lack from oxygen or there will be excessive carbon dioxide in the blood.  

When you experience this the body will breathe harder for getting more carbon dioxide and oxygen. You can even feel this even after doing regular exercise and staying at high altitudes.

Brain will understand that lungs are not functioning properly. As a result you will breathe harder with chest tightness. These will happen because of:

Associated health issues to breathing shortness

A wide range of conditions and health issues can result in breathing shortness. Many times it happens because of the following conditions:

How to diagnose breathing shortness?

When you visit the doctor for treating breathing shortness they will perform physical exam to find out the exact reason behind this! They will listen to the lungs using stethoscope and measure the blood pressure. Even they will place a sensor on finger to check amount of oxygen there in the blood.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms additional tests may also need and they are in the following:

Is it possible to cure breathing shortness?

There are many people who experience breathing shortness occasionally. Although it is treatable but it can come back when the individual has any underlying condition.

How to prevent breathing shortness?

There are multiple ways by which you can prevent breathing shortness. They are:

What are home treatments for breathing shortness?

The home treatments for breathing shortness are:

Is breathing shortness life-threatening?

Basically, breathing shortness is not so dangerous. However, sometimes breathing shortness can result in life-threatening condition. You must visit the doctor immediately when:

When to see the doctor?

Contact to the doctor right away if breathlessness happens frequently or if it interferes with everyday activities. Many times, breathing shortness is indication of medical emergency deeming for urgent medical care.

In case you are suffering from any condition that often leads to breathing shortness then ask the doctor if there is any treatment to help you out.


Check the list of doctors you can visit when having severe breathing shortness: