As we begin to reopen Rush University Medical Center for elective procedures and in-person care, we are putting your safety first. For information about COVID-19, see the latest updates. Rush accepts donations to support our response effort, staff, and patients and families.

Excellence is just the beginning.


French German Italian Portuguese Russian

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.

Care for dyspnea at Rush

Initially, the doctor will provide treatment, such as medications or oxygen therapy, to help you breathe more easily.

If your dyspnea is related to a chronic health problem, such as heart failure, asthma or COPD, you will likely be referred to a specialist at Rush who can help treat the underlying condition. You may see one or more of the following specialists:

Why choose Rush for dyspnea care

  • Pulmonologists at Rush have decades of expertise in pinpointing the causes of breathing problems. Getting the right diagnosis will help you get the right treatment.
  • Allergy specialists at Rush are also researchers looking for new ways to control allergies. This means they can offer some patients treatments that might not be widely available.
  • Thoracic surgeons at Rush perform the highest number of minimally invasive lung surgeries in the Chicago area. People who undergo minimally invasive procedures have shorter hospital stays and a faster recovery compared to traditional open surgery.

Departments and programs that treat this condition