Shortness Of Breath



The inability to catch your breath is a terrifying experience for anyone. Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, can be described as the feeling of your lungs fighting for air or that you are suffocating. Many people have experienced this condition in extremely cold temperatures, after strenuous exercise, or at very high altitudes. Other than your heart and lung disorders shortness of breath can occur as a result of anemia, as a result of hyperventilation or because of smoking habits or pollutants in the air that cause irritation. Dyspnea can also occur as a result of chronic conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis and pulmonary fibrosis. Dyspnea is also a symptom of many health conditions. We will look at the possible causes and home remedies to alleviate an alarming episode of shortness of breath.

Causes Of Shortness Of Breath

Dyspnea occurs when the passages supporting the transportation of oxygen are injured or damaged. Our heart and lungs are responsible for supplying our tissues with oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. Any interruption of this process can cause shortness of breath. This can be the result of a sedentary lifestyle with insufficient exercise, but for most people, dyspnea is caused by a major health problem.

1. Acute Dyspnea

Acute dyspnea is a sudden episode of shortness of breath and can be triggered by:

·         Blockage of breathing pathways

·         Carbon monoxide poisoning

·         Asthma

·         Allergic reaction

·         Heart failure

·         Major blood loss

·         Low blood pressure

·         Blood clot in lungs

·         Collapsed lung

·         Pneumonia

·         Excess fluid around the heart

·         Hiatal Hernia

2. Chronic Dyspnea

Various health conditions can cause a dyspnea episode to last for more than several weeks. Chronic dyspnea can be seen in patients with:

·         Obesity

·         Asthma

·         Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

·         Heart dysfunction

·         Deconditioning

·         Lung disease

Other lung-related conditions that can hinder your breathing process include croup, pulmonary edema, pleurisy, pulmonary hypertension, sarcoidosis, lung cancer, bibasilar atelectasis and tuberculosis. Heart problems such as heart arrhythmias, pericarditis, and cardiomyopathy can also cause shortness of breath.

Dyspnea is often seen with anemia, anxiety, epiglottitis, rib injuries, myasthenia gravis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Risk Factors

Because dyspnea is a symptom of a wide variety of ailments, there are a number of factors that can put you at risk for developing the condition, including:

·        A history of asthma, lung diseases, or lung cancer

·        A history of anxiety, panic attacks, and panic disorders

·        A history of smoking

·        Obesity or lack of exercise

·        Exposure to low-oxygen, high altitudes, extreme temperatures or air pollutants

·        A history of allergic reaction and cardiac conditions

Preventive Measures

Shortness of breath is a condition that may result from multiple factors. Therefore, it may not be possible to prevent this condition in certain circumstances. However, a person can follow the below-mentioned measures to reduce the likelihood of chronic shortness of breath from getting worse.

·    Quit smoking: Smoking is known to damage the lungs. It is also a risk factor for conditions such as COPD and lung cancer. People with COPD can delay the progression of this chronic condition and prevent complications from worsening.

·    Avoid exposure to pollutants: Avoid breathing allergens such as pollens and environmental pollutants, such as smoke and chemical fumes.

·    Avoid extremes in temperature: Exposure to extreme temperatures (such as very hot and humid or very cold conditions) can increase the risk of shortness of breath in people with chronic lung conditions.

·    Exercise regularly: Regular exercise has a positive effect on lung function. People with obesity are at an increased risk of developing chronic lung conditions. Therefore, obese people should exercise regularly.

·    Keep altitude in mind: Avoid physical activity and take time to adjust when travelling to places located at high altitudes.

·    Take your medications: People with chronic lung and cardiac conditions should not skip medications as that can increase the risk of dyspnea.

·    Regularly check your equipment: If you use supplemental oxygen, regularly check your breathing equipment and ensure that your oxygen supply is adequate.

When To Seek Medical Help?

Call your local emergency number or have someone drive you to the emergency room if you experience severe shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and affects your ability to function. Seek emergency medical care if your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, fainting, nausea, a bluish tinge to lips or nails, or a change in mental alertness — as these may be signs of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.

Make an appointment with your doctor if your shortness of breath is accompanied by:

·         Swelling in your feet and ankles

·         Trouble breathing when you lie flat

·         High fever, chills and cough

·         Wheezing

          Worsening of pre-existing shortness of breath

Treatment Overview

A physician will ask you to share your symptoms and medical history. He may perform spirometry, a lung function test that helps in measuring the amount of air your lungs can blow in and blow out. It also tracks the speed with which your lungs perform this task. This test is usually performed to diagnose COPD and asthma.

Some of the tests that he may ask you to undergo include:

·         Pulse oximetry: The test helps the amount of oxygen in the blood.

·         Blood tests: The test can help determine if you have medical conditions such as anaemia and infection. It may also look for the presence of a blood clot or fluid around the lungs.

·         CT scan or Chest X-ray: These imaging tests are performed to see if you have pneumonia, pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in the lung), or any other lung disease.

·         Electrocardiogram (EKG): The test is performed to check if a person is experiencing shortness of breath because of a heart attack by measuring the electrical signals from the heart.



·         For people experiencing shortness of breath due to asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease), treatments involve taking drugs include bronchodilators such as atrovent, albuterol, Spiriva and serevent. The bronchodilator medications are effective for shortness of breath when a shrinking of the muscles happens and causes narrowing of the lungs.

·         For people experiencing shortness of breath because of poor haemoglobin levels in the blood (anaemia), a physician may prescribe supplements to raise increase iron levels.

·         When shortness of breath is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed to get relief.

·         A physician may ask people with chronic lung conditions, such as COPD, to practice breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing and breathing muscle strengthening exercises.

·         For people experiencing shortness of breath due lack of oxygen within themselves, supplemental oxygen will be recommended for people with a severe case of dyspnea. Doctors may also prescribe taking corticosteroids, anti-coagulant and diuretics.

If a serious underlying medication condition is causing shortness of breath, then the physician may recommend treatment accordingly.

Physiotherapy Treatment For Shortness Of Breath

Physiotherapy can help the individual overcome the episode of feeling short of breath and help prepare them for any future attacks. Physiotherapy can help by offering self-management strategies, calming the individual and giving the individual the independence to control symptoms. The other approaches of physiotherapy modalities in treating shortness of breath include offering lifestyle advice, manual treatments physical exercises to decrease shortness of breath and coping strategies for increase exercise tolerance. Improving exercise tolerance with therapist supervised activities to address shortness of breath has proven to be helpful in longer terms.

Physiotherapists can offer a variety of treatments to both adults and children who suffer from shortness of breath, giving them back the independence and control of their symptoms. Some of the treatments and techniques used are:

·        Breathing techniques

·        Manual techniques (vibs, percussion)

·        Postural drainage

·        Lifestyle advice

·        Flutter valve

·        Incentive Spirometry

·        Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT)

·        Exercise program

Cardiovascular exercises

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