A cough and shortness of breath can be caused by a variety of different ailments. When the condition occurs along with a fever, sore throat, or other common cold-like symptoms, common respiratory infections such as the common cold or the flu may be the cause. Even exposure to certain environmental conditions such as high altitudes or extreme hot or cold temperatures could cause the condition. Other common medical causes are lung-related issues such as asthma, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
One very common cause of a cough and shortness of breath is asthma, a condition that restricts air flow into the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. A wheezing chronic cough is often a side effect of the disease and can be dry or accompanied by mucus. Dust, cigarette smoke, and even the weather can trigger an asthma attack. For individuals suffering with a cough-variant asthma, however, a dry cough is usually the only symptom, and shortness of breath does not usually occur.
Pneumonia is another lung condition associated with coughing and a shortness of breath and occurs when the lungs become inflamed and infected due to exposure to germs. These germs include bacteria, parasites, and mold that spread to the lungs and make it difficult to breathe deeply. Severe cases tend to occur in those with weakened immune systems, elderly individuals, and those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease. Symptoms include pain in the chest when breathing, fever or chills, and a cough that presents with discolored mucus. Pneumonia is considered a leading cause of death in many areas around the world.
For long-term smokers, a chronic cough is a common complaint. When this is accompanied by a shortness of breath, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be the cause. COPD occurs when the air sacs and airways in the lungs become damaged due to irritation and can be caused by chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Over time, COPD can make it increasingly difficult to breathe. The condition can often be identified with a cough that worsens with mild activity, a wet wheezing cough, and a cough that will not go away.
Many of the conditions that can cause cough and shortness of breath may present with subtle symptoms. Some also have symptoms that appear very similar to other respiratory problems. Due to the dangers in attempting to diagnose and treat breathing problems without proper medical supervision, getting medical assistance is recommended to determine the correct causes of the symptoms and to receive the appropriate treatment.