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Shortness of Breath Causes

You may have experienced shortness of breath before, or the feeling that you can’t take a full deep breath into your lungs. What are the reasons for shortness of breath and how can supplemental oxygen help? We’ll cover some of the basics and treatments that might be beneficial.

Symptoms of Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is the experience of not being able to get enough air into your lungs. It can be frightening, especially if you’ve never had the feeling before or you’re unable to determine the cause of it. It’s medically known as dyspnea, which many people describe as an extreme chest tightening or suffocating feeling.

What Causes Shortness of Breath

Most of us have experienced some degree of shortness of breath, maybe after playing sports or climbing a steep flight of stairs. Usually this is temporary and resolves once your body replenishes its oxygen stores. However, sometimes there are underlying reasons.

Some of the most common causes of shortness of breath include:

  • Hypoxia is a condition in which there’s not enough oxygen in your tissues. Symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, confusion, wheezing, and bluish skin color. It might be triggered by conditions like COPD, asthma, heart problems, or anemia.
  • Being at a higher altitude, in a location further above sea level than you’re used to (e.g., the mountains), means there’s less oxygen readily available. In addition to shortness of breath, you may feel dizzy or get a headache.
  • Poor air quality. Pollution, wildfires, and poor indoor air quality can all irritate your airways and impact your breathing. You may also begin wheezing or coughing. On-going exposure to poor air quality can lead to more severe illnesses as well.
  • Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes airways to become inflamed and narrow. This can be exacerbated by activity or stress, and can lead to an asthma attack that requires medical attention.
  • COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a chronic inflammatory condition in which your airway is obstructed and limits oxygen intake. Shortness of breath can become even worse and require hospitalization. COPD often develops as a result of long-term exposure to irritants like smoke and pollutants.
  • Aging can naturally take a toll on breathing capacity. Advanced age can cause atrophy in parts of your lungs and reduce immune defense, leaving you more susceptible to breathing problems.
  • Emphysema is another lung condition that causes frequent shortness of breath, as a result of the small air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs being inflamed and damaged, leaving no room for fresh air. Many people with emphysema also have chronic bronchitis.

How to Improve Shortness of Breath

If you ever have unexplained trouble breathing, especially if it’s severe and sudden, seek immediate medical attention.

When someone is admitted to the hospital for shortness of breath and related conditions, they’re given oxygen that they can’t get on their own for one reason or another. This provides concentrated levels of oxygen to tissues quickly to replenish low oxygen stores, making it easier to breathe.

In non-emergency cases, it may be helpful to use a method of all-natural respiratory support, like supplemental oxygen. This option can not only increase oxygen in the body, but maintain higher oxygen levels during exercise or exertion to help reduce the risk of shortness of breath.

Always speak to your doctor about the best method for improving your breathing based on your medical history.

For more research-based reasons to consider using supplemental oxygen for shortness of breath.

Bio: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 13-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Through her writing she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives.