Shortness of breath occurs to all of us from time to time, and may be purely a matter of having exerted ourselves too much. It's fairly typical for hard exercise to cause shortness of breath. After a few minutes of resting, you should be able to “catch your breath” and breathe normally again. Sometimes shortness of breath is caused by conditions like pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. It may seem a little harder to breathe because of the growing baby, and this may be especially noticeable if you exert yourself for a few minutes. If you really feel like you’re unable to catch your breath at all, you should see a doctor immediately.
As common as shortness of breath is, sudden development of breathing difficulties, especially when you don’t have a reasonable explanation, can indicate very serious problems. You shouldn’t ignore shortness of breath that occurs suddenly or that seems to be occurring all of the time. In fact, if you’re in a situation where you cannot catch your breath, you need to get emergency help. Call 911 or emergency services if you are really having trouble breathing. When shortness of breath occurs in children, you should always see a doctor or contact emergency services right away.
There are a number of things that can cause shortness of breath, and you may be able to discover the cause by looking at other symptoms. For instance if you are having shallow breaths and this is accompanied by wheezing, you may be experiencing asthma. When short breath is paired with fever, and cold or cough symptoms, you may have bronchitis or pneumonia. Anemia may cause shortness of breath, and you may notice additional symptoms of pale skin and chronic fatigue.
Heart attack, blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) or a collapsed lung may all cause shortness of breath. Other symptoms of these conditions include tightness or severe pain in the chest. Congestive heart failure can cause chronic shortness of breath, and people may have additional symptoms like puffy ankles and hands. They may also notice that breathing is more difficult when they lie down.
Recent or past damage to the lungs may cause shortness of breath. If you have recently inhaled or been exposed to chemicals or mass volumes of smoke, this can suggest your lungs need help. Long term exposure to chemicals and to cigarette smoke may indicate that breath shortening is caused by emphysema, lung disease, or lung cancer.
One cause of shortness of breath that many people don’t recognize is a panic or anxiety attack. If you begin breathing hard, can’t catch your breath and/or begin hyperventilation you may be having a panic attack. Panic attacks and heart attacks are often confused because people can feel tightness in the chest or pain in the chest with either. Unless you have panic disorder, get to a doctor to make sure that you aren’t missing diagnosis of a heart attack.