Experiencing Shortness of Breath? Let’s Break it Down

Published: December 14, 2021

Have you been struggling to catch your breath lately? Feeling short of breath can be normal after you’ve moved your body too much or gotten too excited. However, if you find that you’re always trying to catch your breath, it might be a sign that something is wrong.


We encourage all members of our Residences family to be proactive and take care of their health. It’s important to speak up when you know you aren’t feeling like you. 


Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnoea, can be a sign of a very serious medical problem. It also may just be a false alarm. But if it is something, getting ahead of it as early as possible will save your life. Below are a few of the reasons why you may be experiencing constant shortness of breath.

Lung Cancer

Shortness of breath can be an early sign of lung cancer. This usually results from a tumor that grows and blocks the airways. There could also be a tumor that is applying too much pressure on the lungs, or even causing inflammation in the lungs. This can make it difficult for you to take deep breaths, and it may feel like you’re never really getting enough oxygen.


The cause of breathlessness isn’t always tumor-related. For example, in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma— a rare form of lung cancer that forms in the thin lining of the lungs— the lining of their lungs may be thickened, making it difficult for the lungs to expand fully. They may also experience a build-up of fluid around the lungs. This fluid can make your chest feel heavy and can make it difficult to take deep breaths. 


It’s important to note that shortness of breath does not automatically mean that you have cancer. Other symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Unexpected weight loss


If you have reason to suspect that you have lung cancer, seek medical attention as soon as possible. People who smoke, have a history of heavy smoking, or have had heavy exposure to known carcinogens should be screened for lung cancer regularly. 


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a term that encompasses a group of different lung diseases. The main cause of COPD is smoking; however, it can also be caused by breathing in heating fumes in an unventilated home. Diseases that impact your lungs—such as asthma or tuberculosis— can also increase your risk of developing COPD. 


The two most common forms of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes are inflamed and prevent air from being transported out of the lungs. Emphysema occurs when the tiny air pockets in your lungs become damaged and turn into one big air pocket. This makes it difficult for oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream.


Symptoms of COPD often start off mild and then gradually worsen. If you have chronic bronchitis or emphysema, you may experience:

  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Excess phlegm or mucus
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Blue lips or fingertips

Heart Problems

Your heart and lungs work together to provide nutrients and oxygen to your body. When your heart is unable to pull its weight, you may start to have difficulty breathing. Constant shortness of breath is the most common symptom of heart failure.


Heart failure is a condition where the muscles of the heart are damaged. This is usually caused by long-term hypertension or a disease that attacks the heart directly. You may start to experience difficulty breathing when you’re exercising or exerting energy. But as time goes on, you may find that it’s hard to breathe even when you’re laying down. 


Another heart disorder that can affect your breathing is atrial fibrillation. This is a condition where your heartbeat is irregular, making it difficult for the blood to leave your heart. Your risk of developing this increases with age. 


Other symptoms that may occur due to a heart problem include:

  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Numbness in your arms or legs
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling around your body


If you suspect your difficulty breathing is due to a heart problem, seek medical attention immediately. A cardiologist will be able to tell you if your symptoms are heart-related.

Your Environment

Your environment could also be the culprit of your inability to catch your breath. It’s possible that you could be having an allergic reaction to something around you. Allergic asthma occurs when your immune system negatively reacts to a stimulus in your environment. This trigger causes your airways to constrict and prevent you from breathing.


Many things can trigger an allergic reaction. A few common triggers are pollen, animal dander, mold, and house pests. Your reactions to these stimulants can be quite severe and can mimic that of an asthma attack. 


Other symptoms of allergic asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Stuffy nose
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • A rash or hives

When to seek medical help/medical advice

Your breathing is a crucial part of your survival, and it should be taken very seriously if you’re having trouble doing so. You should reach out to your primary care physician if you find that your shortness of breath is keeping you from completing daily tasks. Some of these conditions can be caught through routine doctor visits, while others may slip through the cracks if you don’t say anything. 


If you have a sudden onset of shortness of breath and it is accompanied by confusion, numbness, or pain in your arm, you should go to the emergency room immediately. You should also seek medical attention if you’re feeling out of breath when you’re lying down, as these are warning signs of a life-threatening condition.


We believe in the mantra health is wealth at The Residences. We want all of our residents to lead their best lives and to do that, they must put health first. Through our experienced and highly trained staff, we promote a healthy daily lifestyle in all facets of what we do.