Running out of breath is something habitual and a natural response when our body needs more oxygen and energy after performing an activity that requires physical effort. When we run to catch the bus or climb the stairs quickly, it is normal to get out of breath.
COPD, an often preventable and treatable chronic disease
This is a positive reaction and part of what it takes to stay in shape. But it’s not always like this. There are people who are out of breath even if they do not exert themselves physically. Unexpectedly, they find it difficult or uncomfortable to breathe.
Shortness of breath, distress, choking, shortness of breath, etc., are some of the terms with which people who suffer from dyspnea tend to express themselves, depending on their individual, social and cultural condition.
They define it as the uncomfortable feeling of not having enough air to breathe. This variety in the definition of what is usually felt responds to a subjective feeling that defines different sensations and variable intensity.
What happens when we run out of air
In addition to feeling like we can’t get enough air, the symptoms of dyspnea, according to the American Family Physician magazine, may include:
- Fast breathing
- Incrise of cardiac frecuency
- Hot flushes and the need to breathe deeply, without succeeding
- Anxiety or panic, which can make breathing even more difficult
If breathing it gets complicated for no obvious reason, it may be a sign of a more serious medical problem. Attention should be paid if it persists while sitting, interferes with our daily activities and is combined with chest pain or spreading to the arms, neck, jaw or back or dizziness or confusion.
Causes of shortness of breath
Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, has many different causes. The most common include a cold, a chest infection, being overweight or even smoking, it can also be a sign of a panic attack.
But if it’s hard to catch our breath, it may indicate the presence of an underlying health problem, such as a respiratory illness, allergies, or obesity. It can be a sign something more serious, like:
- COPD: Dyspnea usually appears within a few years of the appearance of lung function abnormalities. During the winter months, exacerbations are more common.
- Asthma: in people with asthma, periods of dyspnea are combined with other periods of normal breathing. This feeling of suffocation is more common to appear with the changes of season, with the presence of wheezing in most cases and coughing.
- Pulmonary fibrosis: People with pulmonary fibrosis usually have progressive dyspnea with a variable time course. In many cases, the only associated symptom is a non-productive cough.
- Congestive heart failure: It is usually accompanied by progressive dyspnea and peripheral edema.
- Pulmonary embolism: This disease usually presents with a sudden onset of dyspnea, accompanied in most cases by pleuritic chest pain.
- Pneumothorax: dyspnea in this case usually appears suddenly and accompanied by unilateral chest pain.
- Acute pneumoniaAlthough dyspnea is a frequent symptom, it is not the predominant one. Dyspnea is often accompanied by fever, chest pain, and a productive cough.
In most cases, shortness of breath can be controlled with proper medication, breathing techniques, and exercise.
A scale to measure breathlessness
There is a tool that is commonly used to measure dyspnea. It’s about the Medical Research Council dyspnea scale (MRC), which shows what is preventing you from being short of breath. It includes five stages, from one to five, and is applied together with the questionnaire to establish the clinical degrees of dyspnea.
- Grade 1: Shortness of breath is not bothersome, except from intense exercise.
- Grade 2: Shortness of breath with increasing physical activity.
- 3rd grade: Walking slower than other people, need to stop often when walking, after 15 minutes walking.
- Grade 4: Need to stop to breathe after walking about 100 meters or after a few minutes on flat ground.
- Grade 5: Getting out of breath just leaving the house or even undressing.
Dyspnea, can it be prevented?
Prevention recommendations are based on the cause of the condition. Your doctor may suggest techniques or lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating and regular exercise, which can help control the appearance of dyspnea.
It is important too give up smoking if that is the case because tobacco can worsen symptoms or cause complications from any underlying lung disease. It’s also important to avoid exposure to pollutants or any known allergy triggers to reduce symptoms, acknowledges the American Lung Association.
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