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Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath)

Dyspnea refers to difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. It may include one or more of the following sensations:

  • Breathlessness
  • Discomfort while breathing
  • Not being able to get enough air
  • A feeling of suffocation
  • Wheezing

Anyone can experience dyspnea occasionally. But if it is severe, sudden and significantly limits your activities, you should be evaluated immediately to rule out the more serious causes.

Dyspnea: what you should know

  • Dyspnea is a common symptom that has many possible causes, including the following:
  • Mild dyspnea due to strenuous physical activity, extremely cold or hot weather, or a stuffy nose (from a cold) is not cause for concern.
  • You may also have difficulty breathing while having a panic attack, which is usually called “hyperventilating.”

How can I get help for dyspnea?

If any of the following occur, call 911 or go the emergency room right away:

  • Breathing difficulty comes on suddenly
  • Something — including an object that you have inhaled — seriously interferes with your ability to breathe
  • Someone you are with completely stops breathing

Talk to your doctor if you have trouble breathing plus any of these symptoms:

  • Chest discomfort, pain or pressure
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath while resting, after only mild activity or that wakes you up
  • Tightness in your throat or a barking cough
  • Wheezing

The doctor will ask you questions and do a physical exam to figure out why you are having difficulty breathing. He or she may also order tests, such as X-rays, blood tests and pulmonary function tests.

Departments and programs that treat this condition