You may feel like you can’t breathe when you experience shortness of breath. This can be very unpleasant and may sometimes feel like you’re choking. You will also have less energy and you may need to rest more often. This can be very frustrating. There are two types of shortness of breath, namely:
- Acute shortness of breath. This means the shortness of breath started very suddenly (from one moment to the next, or within a few hours). This could indicate a heart attack, but not necessarily.
- Slowly developing shortness of breath.
The difference is important, as acute shortness of breath can indicate a serious underlying condition. Shortness of breath usually won’t have a serious cause, but it’s always good to be alert. The most common causes are:
- Respiratory problems or illnesses. This could include asthma, pneumonia, COPD and corona.
- Heart problems. This could include heart failure, palpitations or pressure on the chest.
- Larynx disorders.
- Vocal cords disorders.
There are a number of symptoms you can expect when you experience shortness of breath. These may include:
- Feeling like there is a tight band around your chest.
- Taking in very little or barely any oxygen.
- Being out of breath with very little exertion.
- Feeling pressure on your chest.
- Finding it difficult, or not being able, to lie flat.
- Suffering from a wheeze.
- Having a fever.
- Experiencing pain while breathing.
- Having a rapid heart rate.
- Being anxious.
- Being stressed.
- Having something stuck in your trachea which doesn’t want to come out.
There are a number of things you can do yourself if you’re suffering from shortness of breath, like:
- Try not to panic.
- Adopt a good posture and wait until you can breathe properly again.
- Try to find support from someone close to you and make sure they stay with you. That person can leave you once you’re breathing properly again and when you have calmed down. This person will also be able to call for help if you are no longer able to do this yourself.
- Investigate the cause of your shortness of breath.
- Take your medication if you’ve already been prescribed this for your shortness of breath.
- In the event of stress and tension, take a moment to rest and talk to someone you feel comfortable with. Find out what could help you to relieve some of the tension.
- Check the EHBO (First Aid) site in case of suffocation. This will provide information as to which actions need to be taken in the event of suffocation and how to perform them.
Call 112 immediately if:
- You’re suffocating, you have no help and you can’t help yourself.
- Someone is losing his or her consciousness.
- You’re coughing up blood.
- The shortness of breath is very acute, doesn’t go away within a short period of time and is seriously affecting your oxygen intake.
- You feel severe chest pressure and pain.
Contact your GP:
- If you have a fever.
- If you feel unwell.
- If the shortness of breath is getting worse.
- If the shortness of breath doesn’t go away.
- If you’re experiencing heavy, wheezing and/or rapid breathing.
- In case of severe stress and anxiety.
- If you’re concerned and want to discuss your shortness of breath with your GP.
- If you can’t lie down flat because of the shortness of breath.
- If you’re short of breath while doing normal daily activities, like climbing the stairs, cleaning the house and/or walking the dog.
Your GP will then investigate your symptoms with you and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist in the hospital.