Overview of Dyspnea
Dyspnea, is also known as shortness of breath, and can be a sign that you need to see your pulmonologist immediately. Shortness of breath alone may be aggravating, but overall, not life-threatening. However, shortness of breath is typically a sign that there is an underlying medical problem happening and should be taken care of immediately.
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Dyspnea may have a few different symptoms, but mainly you will notice shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include breathlessness, chest tightness, air hunger, or the inability to breathe deeply. You may feel as though you are suffocating. These symptoms may only last for a short period of time, but they also may be chronic. If your symptoms are sudden and severe, then you will need to call 911 or schedule a visit immediately. You will want to keep track of your symptoms for your physician. Note what position you were sitting/ laying down/ standing when these symptoms were occurring. This will allow your pulmonologist to properly diagnose you and will also be able to recommend the best treatment.
Dyspnea can be caused by many other health conditions. Various health conditions include: pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, collapsed lung, carbon monoxide poisoning, excess fluid around the heart, sudden blood loss, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), blocking of the respiratory tract, heart failure, heart attack, pregnancy, or an allergic reaction or even anaphylaxis.
Shortness of breath can also be caused from a variety of other reasons, including: obesity, being out of shape, asthma, pulmonary hypertension, scarring of the lungs, thick or swollen heart muscles, panic attacks, anemia, choking, broken ribs, or lung cancer. If you are frequently having shortness of breath, you will want to see your pulmonologist to get find out the reasoning.
There are often times when a very healthy person may experience shortness of breath, and the reasoning may be because of high altitude, extreme temperatures, or very strenuous exercise. The reasons behind these symptoms should not worry you, unless they are unexplained or uncommon.
Dyspnea When to See a Doctor
If you have severe shortness of breath that is unexplained and causes you to not be able to function, or is accompanied by chest pain, fainting, or nausea, then you will want to call 911 or go to the emergency room. These signs are typically common with a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
You will want to schedule an appointment with your pulmonologist if you notice that your shortness of breath is accompanied with wheezing, high fever, chills, coughing, trouble breathing when lying down, swelling of ankles and feet, or if your symptoms are continually worsening.
To begin diagnosis, your physician will ask you about your symptoms and what you believe was the cause each time. The physician will then listen to your lungs. A variety of other tests may occur next so the physician can properly diagnose you. The first test you may have to complete is the lung function test. A lung function test is also called spirometry, and it measures how much air you can blow in and out of your lungs, and the time it takes you to do this. Asthma and COPD can be diagnosed through this testing.
Another test that you may go through is pulse oximetry, which is a small device that can be clipped onto your earlobe or more commonly, your finger, to measure the amount of oxygen that is in your blood. Blood tests may also be recommended to see if you have an infection or anemia. To properly diagnose pneumonia or a blood clot in your lungs, you may have to go through a chest x-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan. If you and your physician believe that your shortness of breath is a symptom of a heart problem, then you may want to have an electrocardiogram.
If you smoke, then your first step to treatment is to stop smoking completely. If you need help quitting, your pulmonologist will be able to provide you with great resources and support to quit. Treatment will all depend on the reason behind the shortness of breath. If the reason behind the shortness of breath is asthma, then your pulmonologist will likely recommend an inhaler or breathing treatment for when you are experiencing symptoms the worst. If you are living with shortness of breath, then you may need to ask your pulmonologist if they recommend any breathing exercises to help improve your lung capacity. You should never ignore shortness of breath symptoms, as there is likely an underlying cause.
To keep symptoms from getting worse, then you will need to stop smoking. Once you quit smoking, then your chances of smoking-related illnesses begin to drop drastically. If you work in a toxic environment, such as in a plant, you will need to wear a mask, or find new work. You must avoid breathing in allergens and other toxins.
If you are overweight, then you will need to lose weight immediately to relieve the stress on your lungs and heart. If there are other medical conditions that are causing your shortness of breath, take care of those symptoms too.
If you are at a high elevation, such as higher than 5,000 feet, then you will want to avoid exerting too much energy, as the air is very thin at that elevation. Between exertion and the lack of air, you will experience shortness of breath.
If you rely on oxygen to get your breathing under control, be sure to regularly check your equipment. You will want to not only check the oxygen levels, but also that the actual equipment works properly too.
When meeting with your pulmonologist, ask about creating an action plan. This plan will be a great outline for you to see what to do when you are experiencing certain symptoms. It will also lay out which medications to take when you are feeling certain ways. You will want to also discuss absolutely any symptoms that you are having so that you both can properly prepare for symptoms that may happen.