Did you know the average adult breathes nearly 30,000 breaths each day? Your airways, lungs, blood vessels, and the muscles that control breathing all work together with every breath — bringing oxygen in, sending it to every corner of your body, and removing carbon dioxide.
It’s a complex process, yet you probably don’t give it much thought. That is, until you notice that you can’t catch your breath.
Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, makes it feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs. Your chest might be tight or you might be unable to take a deep breath.
No matter the symptoms, that feeling can be scary, and you shouldn’t have to navigate it alone. David Kamelhar, MD, and Eric Teller, MD, specialize in diagnosing and treating shortness of breath here at Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology in Midtown East, New York City.
Shortness of breath: common respiratory causes
Most of the time, shortness of breath is caused by an issue with either your lungs or your heart. A few of the most common respiratory causes are:
Asthma makes your airways sensitive and prone to inflammation. Irritants, like allergens, cold air, or exercise, can trigger inflammation, which narrows your airways and restricts breathing.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases. The two most common are chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and both permanently damage your lungs and limit your ability to breath.
Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. You might feel chest tightness or difficulty breathing while you’re sick, but symptoms can persist long after the acute illness passes.
A number of common infections can also cause shortness of breath. Bronchitis, pneumonia, and other infections can produce excess mucus that fills your lungs and blocks airflow.
Pleural effusion is a condition characterized by excess fluid buildup between your lungs and chest cavity. It’s a common complication of heart disease, and it often causes shortness of breath or rapid breathing.
When shortness of breath is a medical emergency
Breathing is a vital function. Experiencing shortness of breath isn’t always a sign of something more serious, but it’s important to recognize when your symptoms necessitate emergency medical care.
A few of the most common medical emergencies that cause shortness of breath are:
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction. Your blood pressure drops and your airways narrow, making it almost impossible to breathe. Symptoms come on quickly, and anaphylaxis can be life-threatening without prompt treatment.
A heart attack happens when a coronary artery becomes blocked. The lack of blood makes your heart and lungs work harder, which can leave you feeling short of breath. Heart attacks are medical emergencies that require immediate care.
A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition that develops when a blood clot gets stuck in an artery leading to your lungs. It blocks blood flow to part of your lung, and it causes sudden shortness of breath and chest pain.
If you’ve noticed new or worsening shortness of breath, don’t wait to go to the doctor. Contact our team at Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology to schedule pulmonary function tests and get the care you need to start breathing easier.