Is this why you’re short of breath?

People may experience shortness of breath for a number of reasons, some of them serious. These nine health concerns may be causing your breathing problems.

Pneumonia is a potentially fatal infection of the lung. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, and causes 77,5001 hospitalisations in Australia each year. According to, people with diabetes, long-term major health concerns, smokers and people aged over 65 are at the greatest risk. Your risk of getting pneumonia increases with age.

Shortness of breath, dizziness, a fast heart rate, cold hands and feet, and paleness are all symptoms of anaemia. If you don’t have enough healthy and functional red blood cells, your body will struggle to get the oxygen it needs. Treatment will depend on what is causing the shortness of breath in each individual, so consult your doctor if you are concerned.

Asthma is a long-term lung condition where the lungs are triggered to flare up, narrowing airways and producing more mucus, making it hard to breathe. While an asthma attack can strike in a matter of minutes, a flare-up may come on slowly, over a matter of hours, days or even weeks, according to Asthma Australia. If you experience a tight feeling in your chest, breathlessness, wheezing or continued coughing, you may be experiencing asthma and should consult your doctor.

Carbon monoxide
Most of us are aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide, a colourless and odourless gas that makes it hard for your red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body. It is released from heaters, dryers, gas and wood stoves, ovens, fireplaces, boilers and furnaces when the gas is not expelled correctly. If you have shortness of breath accompanied by dizziness, confusion or nausea there may be a carbon monoxide leak. If you’re concerned, read how to check if your heater is a potential killer.

Pulmonary embolism
This occurs when a blood clot breaks loose and is moved to your lung where it limits or blocks your blood flow. This is a life-threatening condition. You may find it painful to breath, have a racing heart, feel faint, experience swelling or cough up blood. If this occurs, you must seek medical assistance immediately.

A reaction to an allergy can cause shortness of breath or an asthma attack. While your reaction may be caused by a common allergen, such as pet hair, dust or pollen, you may be allergic to something else you’ve touched or eaten. If your allergies worry you, consult a doctor.

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
This is a serious medical condition, commonly caused by smoking. Also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, it stretches the alveolus in the lungs, the small sacks that draw air in and out, making them less functional. Your shortness of breath is unlikely to go away, and may be accompanied by coughing or a tightness in the chest. Consult with your doctor, if you’re concerned.

If you’ve ever watched a horror movie or been scared, you’ll know that your heart rate rises and your breathing becomes laboured when you’re afraid. Similarly, experiencing an anxiety attack during or after a particularly stressful moment, such as a car accident, can cause shortness of breath. Anxiety is also a long-term health concern for some people and may require medical advice. For more information, checkout Worry or anxiety? and Understanding anxiety: symptoms, strategies and treatments.

Heart failure
This is when your heart doesn’t perform as well as it should, and struggles to move blood and oxygen around your body. It can make you feel out of breath. Reducing the symptoms of heart failure often involves making permanent lifestyle and diet changes. If you’re worried, see your doctor.

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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner


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