When does the shortness of breath occur? | Causes of shortness of breath

When does the shortness of breath occur?

Too cold air and minus temperatures can cause health problems. Especially patients who are already suffering from lung diseases (especially asthmatics or patients with chronic bronchitis) run the risk of having problems breathing. The cold air irritates the airways, causing them to become narrower, resulting in respiratory distress.

It can be helpful to use some kind of “mouth guard” and breathe in through a scarf, for example, so that the cold air does not reach the lungs directly. Asthmatics are better advised not to exercise outdoors in cold temperatures to prevent attacks of acute shortness of breath. If breathing problems such as shortness of breath or shortness of breath occur after a meal, this can have various causes.

If too much food is ingested, the diaphragm is pushed up, the lungs are compressed and their mobility is restricted. To compensate for this, we breathe faster and shallower after excessive food intake. The same situation occurs when we take in too much fluid in too short a time.

If food is not chewed thoroughly, if it is too spicy or fatty, this can lead to digestive problems and the resulting breathing problems. Breathlessness can also occur as an allergic reaction to food intolerance. People affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease (heartburn) also occasionally experience breathing problems after eating.

Apart from these causes, a tumour of the air or foodways can also cause shortness of breath after eating. In this case, the tumour represents a spatial obstacle which can obstruct or at least constrict the airflow into the lungs when eating. If shortness of breath and breathlessness after eating is due to overeating, eating habits should be changed to smaller portions.

If this is not the reason, the symptoms should be urgently examined and clarified by a doctor. Many people complain of shortness of breath at night. There are various explanations for this, which apply depending on the case.

For example, being overweight can cause the abdominal mass and organs to push the diaphragm upwards when lying down, especially when supine. As a result, the lungs can no longer fully unfold during inhalation, as they cannot cope with the weight against them. Also the fact that the backflow of blood from the periphery of the body is increased during the night due to the lying position plays a certain role in respiratory distress at night, because the heart has to pump more blood through pulmonary and circulatory lice.

If the heart is too weak, blood backs up into the pulmonary vessels or pumps too little into the lungs, this can lead to shortness of breath. Lung disease, which leads to reduced ventilation of the lungs and oxygenation of the blood, can also cause breathing difficulties at night. As smokers are accustomed to higher carbon dioxide concentrations, this natural respiratory drive decreases and both respiratory frequency and the oxygen load of the blood decrease.

This can also cause shortness of breath. A glottal spasm, the cause of which is still largely unknown, can also cause shortness of breath. If shortness of breath (dyspnoea) occurs when falling asleep, this can have various causes.

This can be the case, for example, with sleep-related asthma, chronic lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn) or heart disease (heart failure). This shortness of breath can also occur together with the fear of suffocation. People suffering from anxiety or panic disorders when falling asleep can also suffer from these symptoms, often in combination with increased sweating and palpitations.

The causes of shortness of breath when falling asleep can be very diverse and require completely different approaches. Since patients with shortness of breath often develop anxiety before falling asleep, it is also important to see a doctor and have the symptoms clarified. Breathlessness (dyspnea) in a lying position can affect people of different ages and can have different causes.

Some diseases allow us to breathe more quickly, which makes breathing shallower and the body is insufficiently supplied with oxygen. The normal breathing rate for adults is between 15 and 20 breaths per minute. Reasons for shortness of breath while lying down can include obesity, congenital malformations of the airways or surrounding structures, but also abuse of certain substances (such as alcohol or drugs) or even mental illness, anxiety or panic disorders.

It is also possible, however, that the shortness of breath is an expression of heart failure (cardiac insufficiency) in an advanced stage or is caused by sleep apnoea syndrome. In the case of sleep apnoea syndrome, there is an increased number of breathing stops at night and thus a lack of oxygen. Since shortness of breath is not a clinical picture in itself, but can only be a symptom of an underlying cause, shortness of breath while lying down should be urgently clarified by a doctor, as it can be an indication of a serious illness.

If shortness of breath occurs during sleep (nocturnal dyspnoea), it can have various causes. For example, nocturnal heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux), asthma and chronic lung diseases or heart failure (cardiac insufficiency) can lead to nocturnal shortness of breath and sometimes to suffocation anxiety. This can also be the case in patients with anxiety and panic disorders or with psychogenic attacks.

Parasomnia, a disorder in which sufferers sometimes suffer from wake-up disorders or have disorders of the sleep-wake-transition, can also be a cause of nocturnal shortness of breath. A subform of parasomnia (pavor nocturnus) can be accompanied by other strong vegetative reactions such as palpitations and cold sweatiness or nocturnal wetting. Here, stress, change or excessive demands are possible triggers and usually no specific therapy is required.

The causes of nocturnal shortness of breath can therefore be very diverse and require completely different approaches. It is therefore important to seek medical advice and to carry out a physical examination if symptoms occur. More precise conclusions about possible causes for sleep behavior can often be drawn after a measurement in the sleep laboratory.

Since it is often added that patients suffering from nocturnal shortness of breath and suffocation anxiety develop a fear of falling asleep – this is another important reason for a medical examination. Under stress, the cardiac output increases, i.e. the volume of blood that is pumped from the heart into the body’s circulation within a minute. Both the heart rate and the heart beat volume increase.

The aim is to cover the increased oxygen demand of the body through exertion. As a result, more blood in the lungs must be enriched with oxygen in a short time, so that the lung blood flow and breathing rate increase. During exercise, the blood vessels in the lungs also react by dilating, so that a higher blood flow is possible.

For example, if you are very untrained or have a weak heart, the heart cannot increase the stroke volume of blood and the heart rate according to the increased oxygen demand. The blood is thus backed up in the lungs and overloads them. The gas exchange and thus the enrichment of the blood with oxygen cannot take place as usual.

Similarly, in pulmonary fibrosis, in which functional lung tissue is replaced by connective tissue, or in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in which the airways are narrowed, there may be reduced diffusion of oxygen from the lungs towards the blood. Heart and lung diseases are only two examples that can be the cause of respiratory distress under stress. If there is no organic cause for the shortness of breath, it may simply be due to an untrained body condition.

Through targeted sports, both the heart and lungs can be trained, so that heart beat volume and lung blood circulation increase efficiently under stress. If shortness of breath is already caused by climbing a few stairs, one should be alert. It is quite possible that behind the rapid exhaustion and shortness of breath (dyspnoea) during exercise there is an unknown or insufficiently treated heart disease (cardiac insufficiency).

However, there is no reason to panic if breathing is a little faster under stress. It is perfectly normal to have to do more breathing work when doing heavy physical work at home, during training, climbing a steep slope or a sprint. Due to the increased work of the muscle, more oxygen is needed to supply the body sufficiently.

In this case, the body also produces more CO2 in exchange, which is then released more strongly through breathing. Attention is required, however, if you get out of breath even during low physical exertion, during walks, light activity in the household or garden or even when climbing just a few steps. In these cases, the shortness of breath should be perceived as a warning signal and a doctor should be consulted promptly to clarify the symptoms.

As a rule, breathing difficulties should not occur after anaesthesia. The anaesthesia is only terminated (e.g. the tube in the trachea is only removed after the anaesthetists have ensured that the patient is able to breathe spontaneously and react independently and that the protective reflexes (such as swallowing or coughing reflex) are present. To prevent possible swallowing or inhalation of saliva or other liquids (to minimise the risk of aspiration), the patient’s airways are thoroughly suctioned before the anaesthetic is ended.

Should complications such as respiratory distress nevertheless arise after the anaesthesia, for example due to heavy mucus in the patient, there is always competent personnel in the recovery room who can react immediately in any situations that may arise. One of the typical symptoms of pneumonia is shortness of breath (dyspnoea) and faster breathing (tachypnoea). These symptoms should subside as part of therapy.

If these symptoms worsen again after the pneumonia has taken place and has been adequately treated, and if further symptoms such as fever, cough, headaches and aching limbs are possible, those affected should see their family doctor again. Pneumonia can cause other symptoms in addition to shortness of breath, which, if not detected, can spread to all organs. After stopping smoking, physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms occur, which can be of varying severity at different times.

These include, among others: Primarily, the occurrence of respiratory distress cannot be explained by giving up cigarettes, as the lungs begin to recover from the permanent damage caused by the exogenous noxae (cigarette smoke). In this process, increased coughing with resulting shortness of breath may occur at times. However, it is much more possible that the psychological withdrawal symptoms cause internal stress to which the body can react with shortness of breath (dyspnoea) and an increased heart rate (tachycardia).

  • Increased irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Craving for cigarettes
  • Nervousness
  • Problems of concentration
  • Ravenous appetite
  • Despondency

Excessive consumption of alcohol activates the part of the autonomic nervous system that makes the human body more efficient, the sympathetic nervous system. This causes blood pressure to rise, the heart to pump faster, more sweating and possibly even shortness of breath or shortness of breath. The consumption of stimulants such as coffee (caffeine) also activates the sympathetic nervous system.

Typically, shortness of breath occurs when pregnancy has progressed so far that the uterus, due to its forward and upward growth, pushes the diaphragm upwards, thus restricting the space for the lungs to develop. This effect is supported by a lying position of the pregnant woman, because the organs and the uterus, including the child, push the diaphragm even more upwards due to gravity. The consequence of this is an increase in the breathing rate in order to maintain oxygen uptake.

This is typical for late pregnancy. This form of shortness of breath can be improved by changing the position, for example, to sitting or standing bent forward, as the lungs then have sufficient room to develop again by lowering the diaphragm. A vena cava compression syndrome can also manifest itself with shortness of breath.

In this case the large abdominal vein, which carries the blood from the body back to the heart, is compressed by the uterus and transports less oxygen-depleted blood to the heart and consequently to the lungs. The more advanced the pregnancy is, the more likely it is that the pregnant woman should lie on her left side to avoid this. Furthermore, asthma with shortness of breath can occur during pregnancy.

The development of asthma during pregnancy is related to the physiological changes in the female body. In any case, it is advisable to consult a doctor to clarify the cause of the shortness of breath. Breathlessness or dyspnoea is an emergency situation that frequently occurs in children and to which an immediate reaction is required.

The shortness of breath can have various causes, can be acute (seizure-like) or continuous. The cause of shortness of breath can be a respiratory infection, bronchitis, asthma, an allergic reaction to, for example, an insect bite or a certain food (food allergy), pneumonia or an aspirated (inhaled/swallowed and entered the respiratory tract) foreign body. Some children also hold their breath out of defiance, anger or pain, which can lead to cramps and resulting shortness of breath.

Respiratory distress can also be an expression of respiratory, lung or heart disease or can be triggered by anxiety or panic attacks. If a child has acute shortness of breath, there is an acute danger of suffocation and a paediatrician and adolescent doctor should be contacted immediately, especially at night, and if necessary the emergency room should be visited or an emergency doctor called. In these situations it is important to remain calm and to reassure the child. Tachycardia, restlessness and the fear of suffocation can be aggravated by restlessness on the part of parents alone. If an allergy or asthma is known to be present, an emergency spray for acute situations must always be within reach.