As already mentioned, the symptom of shortness of breath occurs in connection with a wide variety of causes. It is therefore important to pay attention to the accompanying symptoms that accompany shortness of breath. If a patient has chyme in his windpipe, which prevents him from sliding through the lower outlet of the oesophagus into the stomach, this leads not only to shortness of breath but also to a feeling of pressure in the area of the throat and vomiting.
In the case of tonsillitis, the patient can usually palpate the swollen tonsils himself and with a small lamp he can also see the thick tonsils with the whitish coating in the area behind the tongue. This would also be the case with the so-called pseudocroup or diphtheria. In epiglottitis, in addition to breathlessness as a symptom, there is also clumsy speech coupled with severe sore throat, difficult swallowing (dysphagia) and usually rapidly rising high fever.
If the trachea is constricted by tracheal stenosis, however, shortness of breath is usually the only symptom. However, if the trachea is constricted due to an enlarged thyroid gland, it is sometimes possible to palpate the enlarged thyroid gland in the area of the Adam’s apple in addition to the shortness of breath. In lung cancer, symptoms appear very late.
The first symptoms are shortness of breath, hoarseness and frequent coughing, which can be dry at first but then often becomes bloody. In addition, chest pain and swelling in the area of the face can be added. With pulmonary fibrosis, there is rapid fatigue and low resilience in addition to shortness of breath.
Another symptom is usually an increased cough. In cystic fibrosis, one finds the classic very mucous cough, which remains constant over long periods of time and leads to severe shortness of breath. It is similar with bronchiolitis, except that this disease disappears after a short time and does not recur again and again.
In the case of COPD, the patient also complains of recurrent coughing attacks, which can last for weeks and are coupled with severe shortness of breath. If the shortness of breath is due to heart disease, the heart problems are often the main cause. Pulmonary oedema only develops when the heart has not been working properly for a long time, and therefore symptoms such as exhaustion, reduced resilience and chest pain usually occur before shortness of breath.
A heart attack in particular initially manifests itself through severe pain in the area of the left arm and left chest. Shortness of breath is more of an accompanying symptom here. In order to diagnose shortness of breath, it is usually sufficient for the doctor to take a medical history, i.e. to talk to the patient.
This allows him to assess and evaluate possible allergic reactions, previous illnesses or stress, such as frequent smoking. In addition, listening to the lungs (auscultation) serves to make a diagnosis. For this purpose, the doctor uses his stethoscope and can thus identify the lung boundaries and any noises, which in turn provide information about the disease.
For example, a wet rattle noise indicates water in the lungs, as is the case with pulmonary oedema. In addition, the doctor can tap the back to determine the lung boundaries more precisely. After these simple methods there are also special diagnostic tools to get to the bottom of the respiratory distress. These include, for example, a whole-body pletysmograph, in which the patient sits in a closed pressure chamber and breathes via a valve in order to determine his air volume and breathing capacity.