What Might Cause Shortness of Breath?

Feeling winded. Shallow breathing. Difficulty breathing. These sensations can be alarming. People often fear that shortness of breath indicates lung or heart disease. Those are more serious concerns but they aren’t the only reason a person may be short of breath. Here we discuss a few other reasons it may be hard to breathe.


We think of allergies as symptoms like sneezing and itchy, watery eyes. Allergies may cause some people to feel congested or get a runny nose. In some instances, allergies also irritate the airways and lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing or an asthma attack. The warning signs of allergy-related breathing issues include chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing. These symptoms can last up to several days. Medications or an inhaler may be needed to help prevent a recurrence.


Stress and worry can cause muscle tightness in various areas of the body. The chest is a common area in which anxiety is felt. Symptoms include rapid or shallow breathing and feeling as though you cannot get enough air. This sensation is described as “air hunger.” When anxiety is the cause of breathing difficulties, additional symptoms may include feeling faint, having chest pain, sweating, and a sensation of having a lump in the throat. Anxiety symptoms and panic attacks can be managed with breathing exercises such as breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth like blowing out a candle; breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 8. Medication, meditation, yoga, and other modalities may also be helpful.


People rarely have shortness of breath and think “oh, I must have anemia!” No. This condition, in which the body has insufficient iron to support red blood cells, is usually associated with feeling dizzy, weak, and generally run down. Because anemia prevents proper oxygenation, chest and lung symptoms can occur. Patients diagnosed with anemia may be advised to eat iron-rich foods like beans and lean red meat.

A doctor may also prescribe an iron supplement or other anemia treatment.


Lung infection can occur when germs travel through the nose and mouth. Fortunately, most respiratory infections do not result in pneumonia and they respond well to conservative treatment. People with asthma, lung disease, a weak immune system, or who smoke have a higher risk of this infection. It is necessary to receive proper medical care to resolve pneumonia. If symptoms such as fever, chills, chest pain, coughing, nausea, or vomiting occur, contact a doctor.

Shortness of breath is a common complaint that brings patients to one of our two NYC offices. To schedule a visit, call 212-480-4062.

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