Dyspnea refers to difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. It may include one or more of the following sensations:
- Discomfort while breathing
- Not being able to get enough air
- A feeling of suffocation
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
- Shortness of breath while resting, after only mild activity or that wakes you up
- Tightness in your throat or a barking cough
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.