Dyspnea is the feeling of shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. It is commonly experienced by people with advanced stages of lung cancer, asthma, or other conditions affecting the lungs or heart. Dyspnea may be caused by physical factors, such as an airway obstruction, or biological factors, such as a decreased amount of red blood cells in the body. Individuals may have blocked airways, narrow airways, or fluid in their lungs or heart. Inflammation of lung tissue after radiation exposure may also cause shortness of breath. Decreased oxygen in the blood or an interruption in blood supply to the heart or lungs may also cause dyspnea. Other causes include stress, anxiety, and illnesses such as pneumonia.
Dyspnea is a symptom that may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest tightness, anxiety, and a feeling of suffocation. Despite the feeling of suffocation, dyspnea does not cause suffocation or death, and patients may experience dyspnea even with normal oxygen levels. However, those who experience dyspnea should seek medical attention in order to be evaluated for the presence of diseases affecting the lungs, airways, or heart.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the dyspnea. General actions to reduce symptoms include not smoking, staying well hydrated, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep. Devices such as humidifiers or incentive spirometers may be used to make breathing easier for affected individuals. Anti-anxiety or pain medications may be prescribed to affected individuals. If stress or anxiety is identified as the main cause, relaxation and breathing exercises may be used. If you or your child has been diagnosed with dyspnea, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.