Why Do I Have Trouble Breathing?

Shortness of BreathFeeling short of breath after jogging up a couple of flights of stairs can be perfectly normal. Yet, many times shortness of breath comes on suddenly with a variety of other symptoms that could signal you have a serious underlying condition that requires prompt medical care.

Causes of Shortness of Breath

Also called dyspnea, shortness of breath is a symptom of many health problems stemming from disorders of the:

  • Respiratory System
  • Heart
  • Esophagus
  • Sinuses
  • & More

Specific medical disorders that cause shortness of breath can include:

  • Asthma
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Collapsed Lung
  • Fluid Around the Heart
  • Pneumonia
  • Blood Clot in the Lungs
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • High Blood Pressure in the Lungs

The causes of shortness of breath are varied and can be indicative of a serious underlying condition. If you suffer from chronic shortness of breath or it comes on rapidly, see a doctor immediately.

Symptoms Caused by Shortness of Breath

In addition to feeling like you can’t pull in enough air into your lungs, shortness of breath may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest Pain
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Neck Pain
  • & More

Testing Options

When you visit a pulmonologist, a physician that specializes in diseases of the respiratory tract, they will perform a comprehensive physical exam to diagnose your disorder. In addition to taking a full history of your symptoms, they may perform one or more of the following tests to diagnose your disorder:

Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) – This test evaluates lung function and records vital data about your lungs, including lung volume and capacity, rate of airflow, and gas exchange. A PFT can help determine if your shortness of breath stems from asthma, COPD, interstitial lung disease, and more.

Pulmonary or Thoracic Ultrasound – This noninvasive testing tool records images of your lungs and the space around them to help your physician diagnose your condition. The test is highly effective in diagnosing pneumonia, pulmonary edema, pleural effusion, chest pain, chronic cough, and more.

Bronchoscopy – This procedure allows a physician to use a bronchoscope (a thin, flexible tube inserted through your mouth or nose) to evaluate your lower airways, including the throat, larynx, and trachea, for conditions like bleeding, tumors, and inflammation. The doctor may take a tissue sample for diagnosing lung cancer, infections, fibrosis, and more.

Additional Tests — Other tests can include x-rays, CT scans, and examinations to determine your oxygen level and ability of the blood to carry oxygen.

Treatment Options for Shortness of Breath

Treatment for shortness of breath will vary for each patient depending on the cause of the underlying condition. Some effective treatment options include:

  • Steroids or bronchodilators to reduce inflammation of the airways for patients with asthma
  • Antibiotics for lung infections such as pneumonia
  • Opiates
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Supplemental oxygen for those with low blood oxygen levels
  • Special breathing and strengthening techniques designed to help patients with COPD

Ways to Reduce the Symptoms of Shortness of Breath

If you have a serious medical condition causing your shortness of breath, you should follow the medical advice provided by your pulmonologist. However, by improving your overall health, you may be able to alleviate the severity of your symptoms. These steps include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding second-hand smoke
  • Avoiding environmental irritants like chemical fumes and smoke
  • Losing weight, that can reduce the stress on your heart and lungs

If you’re struggling with shortness of breath and other accompanying symptoms, make an appointment today with Dr. Bowen. Dr. Bowen and his team specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of dyspnea.

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