Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is also called dyspnea or breathing difficulty. Shortness of breath can be a harmless effect of exercise or nasal congestion, it can also be caused by a more serious disease.

If you are experiencing shortness of breath, make sure to note when and how often you experience it, as well as how severe it is. This information could be helpful to your doctor in diagnosing any underlying conditions.

If breathing difficulty is sudden and severe, it could be the result of certain urgent lung-related conditions. If this is the case, you should seek immediate medical care.


There are a number of possible causes of shortness of breath:

  • Shortness of breath can be caused by problems with the lungs, such as a blood clot in the arteries of the lungs (pulmonary embolism), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), and bronchiolitis.
  • Shortness of breath can also be caused by health problems in the airways that lead to the lungs, such as choking, blockage of the air passages in the nose, throat, or mouth, swelling around the vocal cords (croup), or epiglottitis.
  • Certain heart conditions can also cause shortness of breath, including arrhythmias, heart defects from birth, heart attack, heart failure, and chest pain (angina).
  • Other possible causes of shortness of breath include allergies, high altitudes, dust in the environment, compression of the chest wall, emotional distress, hiatal hernia, obesity, and panic attacks.


Treatment for shortness of breath depends on the cause. Once your doctor diagnoses the underlying cause, they will decide on the appropriate course of treatment.

There are certain methods of self-care to keep chronic shortness of breath from worsening. These methods include quitting smoking or not starting smoking, avoiding exposure to pollutants like allergens and certain toxins, avoiding extremes in temperature or altitude, and exercising regularly.

Be sure to see your doctor if you experience other symptoms with breathing difficulty, such as fever, wheezing, croupy cough, shortness of breath after slight activity, at rest, trouble breathing at night or if it requires you to sleep propped up in order to breathe.

At a doctor's office visit for shortness of breath, your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and any other symptoms you're experiencing. Your doctor may also want to know if anything worsens your shortness of breath, or if you make grunting or wheezing sounds when breathing. Your doctor may order certain tests, including blood tests, blood oxygen saturation, ECG, echocardiogram, exercise testing, or pulmonary function tests.