Home Symptoms Shortness of breath: 22 Possible Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Shortness of breath: 22 Possible Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Shortness of breath is a condition where there is difficulty in getting air into your lungs. It could be very distressing and uncomfortable and sometimes wakes some people up at night because they’re trying to catch their breathShortness of breath

Some people experience shortness of breath for short periods of time, while others experience it for long periods (for several weeks).

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic came about, shortness of breath has been known to be one of the most distressing symptoms of the illness.

Causes of Shortness of Breath

Because your heart and lungs are the organs involved in carrying oxygen to your tissues and removing carbon dioxide from them, problems with these organs may make it difficult for you to breathe.

It can occur suddenly and lasts only for a period of time. Some of the causes include:

  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Asthma attack
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Accumulation of excess fluid around the heart
  • Exacerbation of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular beating of the heart
  • Exacerbation of heart failure
  • Lung infections
  • A collapsed lung
  • Blood clots in the lungs, reducing blood supply to it.
  • Blocking of the upper airway
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

Causes over a long period of time (several weeks) include:

  • Asthma attack
  • Exacerbation of COPD
  • Heart failure
  • Disease of the lung connective tissue
  • Obesity
  • Accumulation of excess fluid around the lungs
  • Reduced levels of red blood cells (Anemia)

Home Treatment

If you have shortness of breath and it isn’t caused by an emergency, there are a few home treatments that you could try that may help you breathe more easily.

  • Purse your lips and breathe
  • Sit up and lean forward
  • Sit behind a table, place a pillow on the table and lay your head on the pillow
  • Stand near a wall or anything to support your back and rest your back on it
  • Stand while placing your hands on a support (e.g. a table)
  • If you experience shortness of breath while sleeping, you may try to use 2 or 3 pillows to elevate your head and place another set of pillows beneath your knees as you sleep face up.
  • Point a small hand-held fan to your face
  • Take coffee

When to See a Doctor

Make sure to call 911 or get to the emergency if you experience shortness of breath that affects your functioning, or that is associated with:

  • Fainting,
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish discoloration of the tips of your nails.

Book an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of these additional symptoms:

  • Swelling in your ankles
  • Worsening of your breathing when you lie flat
  • Fever or cough
  • Wheezing
  • Worsening of the shortness of breath

Prevention strategies

  • Stop smoking as it may worsen your symptoms or even cause lung or heart disease
  • Avoid any source of pollutants
  • Avoid temperatures that are too hot or too cold
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do not skip your medications


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