6 Common Causes of Shortness of Breath

Few things instill fear and anxiety in people more than experiencing shortness of breath. Everybody knows that oxygen is needed to survive, and feeling short of it is understandably scary. Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is labored or difficult breathing. People describe the feeling in a variety of ways which include extreme tightening in the chest, feeling as though they are suffocating, feeling as though they can’t take a deep breath, or just feeling like they simply cannot get enough air. Some people experience shortness of breath frequently throughout the day while others experience it only occasionally, perhaps for a few minutes every couple of days.

Sometimes it occurs with other symptoms while other times it is the only symptom. Often, shortness of breath is a warning sign of a condition that exists in the body. Some conditions are severe enough that they warrant immediate medical attention. So it’s important to understand the cause. It’s variability in regards to how frequently and when it occurs can make is difficult to understand the cause, as there are many. Understanding what’s causing shortness of breath will help in determining how to correct this worrisome symptom. A variety of conditions can cause shortness of breath.

1. Asthma

About one in twelve people in the United States have asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs resulting in narrowing and inflammation of the airways to the lungs. The airways carry oxygen to the lungs. A person with asthma has very sensitive airways due to the narrowing and inflammation. Thus, they have a heightened reaction to irritants than someone without asthma. The most common symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. Sufferers often experience symptoms in at night or early in the morning. When symptoms suddenly worsen, it’s referred to as an asthma attack.

During this time the muscles of the airways tighten, which is also called a bronchospasm, and a thicker than normal mucus is produced. The great decrease in the amount of oxygen that can pass through the airways can be so severe that death can occur. To determine if an individual has asthma, doctors evaluate a patient’s personal and medical history, conduct a physical exam, and administer lung functioning tests such as a spirometry or a peak airflow test. Asthma is commonly managed by taking medication in an inhaler or through a nebulizer as well as avoiding common triggers.