If you or a family member has recently noticed trouble breathing, it’s important that you contact either your doctor or call emergency services. Unfortunately, people rush to judgment and place the blame on lack of exercise or the natural process of aging.
The fact is respiratory disruptions, often in the form of shortness of breath or tightening in the chest, can be symptoms of a variety of serious medical conditions. I will like to take a few moments to outline some of the health issues related to breathing problems so you can make fast and correct medical decisions.
Possible Causes of Breathing Problems
Trouble breathing is often associated with asthma, and this disorder is in fact one of the leading causes of respiratory problems. People with asthma suffer from inflammation of the bronchi, the tubes that let air flow between the windpipe and lungs. Irritants like pollen, mold and pollution can trigger as asthma attack. The person will experience shortness of breath; coughing and wheezing as the mucous and inflammatory tissue obstruct the airways.
Sometimes, people who have trouble breathing during physical activity are misdiagnosed with asthma when they really suffer from over exertion. Even reasonably fit people will have breathing problems if they don’t pace themselves. I often remind athletes of the importance of starting out slow and working up to an intense pace so your body can adjust and keep up with you.
A condition known as Cardiac Asthma acts a lot like asthma, but is not actually a form of asthma at all. It occurs when the left ventricle cannot keep up with blood flow from the right ventricle and is often an early sign of heart disease. If you experience the symptoms of asthma, see your doctor who can make a diagnosis by taking your medical history and examining you for signs of allergic reactions and inflammation.
In addition to Cardiac Asthma, Coronary Artery Disease is another heart condition related to shortness of breath and is due to obstruction of the arteries that deliver blood to the heart. As you can see, breathing problems should not be taken lightly, as they could be signs of a heart condition.
A different cause of breathing problems is Apnea, a respiratory disorder that can vary in intensity. Most people with apnea suddenly stop breathing for short periods. Often occurring during sleep, this condition can escalate to prolonged apnea, which can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, turning blue or going limp. If you experience cessation of breath, see your doctor right away.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is another respiratory issue to watch out for. It is due to continuous obstruction of your airways because of emphysema or chronic bronchitis. In either case, a doctor will treat these causes in order to alleviate shortness of breath.
Some Simple Healthy Answers
While working in accordance with your doctor is important to treat the conditions I’ve described, there are some things you can do to cope with breathing problems in your everyday life.
1) Avoid triggers like pollen, dust and mold.
2) Stay indoors when the air quality index indicates potential problems for people with your condition.
3) Notice if your symptoms get worse when you encounter specific triggers like pollution, vigorous activity, pet dander or certain body positions. Report this to your doctor.
4) Don’t smoke. It makes existing breathing problems worse and could lead to emphysema.
5) Reduce stress. It often triggers asthma attacks or breathing problems.
6) Sleep smart. On your side, keep your back straight by placing a pillow between knees and another under the head. On your back, elevate your head slightly under pillows and place more pillows under bent knees.
7) Stay fit. If you never challenge the respiratory system, any physical activity will be difficult to perform. Stay conditioned by being active everyday.
Even though staying on top of your health might seem like a full-time job, the pay-off is more than worth it. Your breathing is just one sign that something is off balance. Listen to your body, and you will enjoy life to the fullest.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.