A condition that causes shortness of breath, or breathing problems is called dyspnea. Healthcare professionals warn about how frightening this symptom of shortness of breath can be to patients as well as their families. There are hundreds of reasons that people might feel shortness of breath. There are some that are more serious than others.

shortness of breath

Senior woman comforting a tired senior man on the beach

Some common reasons people experience shortness of breath include:

  • asthma
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • pneumothorax
  • pneumonia
  • viral illness
  • heart disease
  • congestive heart failure
  • anemia
  • allergies
  • infection
  • pulmonary embolism

Less serious incidents of dyspnea can be caused by panic attacks, anxiety or constipation. Sometimes it occurs with physical exertion. A person may have trouble breathing after walking up a flight of stairs. This can be so severe that the person cannot walk, talk or eat.

Always tell a doctor about shortness of breath as soon as you can. Severe forms of it are often a medical emergency. Warning signs to look for about shortness of breath being a problem that needs immediate medical evaluation include:

Shortness of breath that happens along with chest pain.

Problems breathing that occur with changes in mental abilities such as alertness, language difficulties or memory problems.

Severe shortness of breath that impairs a person’s ability to walk, eat, or talk.

Shortness of breath that causes a blueness to extremities or to the lips.

Anytime the condition is uncomfortable even without the above warning signs, you should talk to a medical professional immediately. A doctor will determine what the best treatment for the shortness of breath is after doing a careful exam.


After obtaining a complete history and physical, your doctor will determine further workup necessary to determine the cause of your symptoms.  This may include:

  • CBC
  • CMP
  • d-dimer
  • troponin
  • lactate

Scans and X-Rays:

  • EKG
  • chest x-ray
  • CT chest
  • US of your leg veins

During the exam, the doctor will often put a device on a finger to measure the amount of oxygen going through the blood. This is caused a pulse oximeter. They will also perform an electrocardiogram and a chest x-ray. These can assist the doctor in finding any abnormalities in the heart or the lung.


Your symptoms and the cause of your shortness of breath will determine which medications are required to improve your symptoms.  Often, we are able to diagnose the cause of your shortness of breath and treat you effectively so you can return home.  If you require admission, we will arrange this at a hospital of your choice.

In moderate or mild cases, a doctor might prescribe medications to ease breathing. Antibiotics are helpful in bacterial pneumonia cases. Anti-anxiety medications can be given to alleviate panic or anxiety attacks and stop the uncomfortable feeling of being short of breath. Bronchodilators widen bronchial tubes and reduce inflammation to help still more patients.

One of the first treatments given is usually oxygen which is provided by a mask and a tube placed in the nose. Not every patient responds well enough to this, so you and your doctor will discuss if this is something to use for the long term or not.

Sometimes a patient will feel better changing their position. If they sit up rather than lie down, it can help. Also, being calm and reassuring to the family member is a huge help. Using bedside fans or opening windows to let in breezes also help lessen dyspnea symptoms in a simple way.


We’re available Sunday-Thursday, 11AM-10PM and Friday-Saturday 11AM-11PM

If you are experiencing symptoms of shortness of breath and you can safely come to ER Specialists, we would love to help you.  If you are alone or have any doubt about getting to our facility safely, or, believe you are experiencing a medical emergency please call 911. 


(719) 522-2727

Our staff is ready for you Sunday-Thursday from 11:00 A.M. – 10:00 P.M. and Friday and Saturday 11:00 A.M.- 11:00 P.M.

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