Shortness of breath, medically known as dyspnea, is the sensation of tightening of chest accompanied by a feeling of suffocation. Most of us would have experienced this while doing intensive exercise, while in extreme temperature or high altitude to a certain extent. But when the breathlessness is severe, it is due to a lung or heart ailment. The lungs and the heart play the most important role in transporting oxygen to our tissues and removes carbon dioxide. And so, any kind of problem in either of the organs can affect our breathing.
Numerous underlying conditions can lead to a shortness of breath. An insight into the most common causes are enumerated below.
- Asthma: One of the common reason for shortness of breath is asthma. It is a serious condition in which the passage of air becomes narrow and swells up and produces extra mucus. This can result in shortness of breath, triggers wheezing, coughing and also makes breathing difficult. It cannot be cured but the symptoms can be controlled, and it is also necessary to consult with the doctor to track the symptoms and adjust the treatment.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning: Another leading cause of shortness of breath is carbon monoxide poisoning. It is caused when carbon monoxide builds up in our blood stream. When there is excessive carbon monoxide in the surrounding air, our body replaces the oxygen in our red blood cells or RBCs with the carbon monoxide in the air. Appliances that are improperly ventilated and engines, especially in a sealed or tightly enclosed space might allow carbon monoxide to accumulate in our blood stream to a dangerous level.
- A hiatal hernia: This is caused when part of our stomach pushes upward through your diaphragm. Our diaphragm usually has a small opening through which our esophagus or food pipe passes and connects the stomach. The stomach pushes up through this opening in case of a hiatal hernia and results in shortness of breath. In most of the cases it can be cured by medications, but in some situations, surgery is required.
- Pulmonary embolism: It is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs. In 95% of the cases of pulmonary embolism, it is caused due to blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or some other parts of the body. As the clot blocks the flow of blood to the lungs, it can also be life threatening besides causing a shortage of breath.
Apart from these conditions, others such as bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancer, COPD, arrhythmia, hypertension, and many other lung and heart ailments can result in shortness of breath and can lead to dire consequences in certain cases. Thus, it becomes paramount to consult a pulmonologist when you frequently experience such breathing difficulty.