Dyspnea: Everything You Need To Know About It


You must have heard about dyspnea; it is shortness of breath, also known as the ‘air hunger.’ Most people take the shortness of breath as a normal thing and nothing serious. Although it is a very uncomfortable feeling, do you know it is a disease and can be diagnosed? The shortness of breath can range from temporary and mild to long-lasting and serious and can cause problems for a person. 

The dyspnea treatment varies according to the dyspnea symptoms and can be difficult to diagnose depending on the different dyspnea causes. Although its treatment is essential and according to a study by the Cleveland clinic center for continuing education, one in every four persons who visit the doctor suffers from it.

To help you with a better understanding of dyspnea and its symptoms, we bring you all the information for it in the article. We have put its various aspects like its symptoms, treatment, and causes in the article, which will help you to know it better. 

What Is Dyspnea?

The dyspnea definition is when a person has shortness of breath and can’t get enough air in the lungs; it can be defined as dyspnea. It can be a sign of serious health problems and require immediate medical attention. Although the dyspnea definition is something which may confuse you as the common cold and other diseases like covid-19 can also be a reason. 

Whatever the reason, don’t get confused in the dyspnea definition and consult your doctor right away as shortness of breath indicates other serious health problems.

Dyspnea Symptoms

Dyspnea on exertion is one of the main causes for shortness of breath, spending time at high altitudes, or as a symptom of various conditions. 

Sign in a person suffering from Dyspnea:

  • Shortness of breath due to dyspnea on exertion or other medical conditions
  • Feeling suffocated or smothered due to difficulty in breathing
  • Labored or heavy breathing
  • Tightness or congestion in the chest
  • The shallow and rapid speed of breathing
  • Palpitation in heart
  • Regular coughing
  • Wheezing

If the dyspnea in a person happens suddenly or the dyspnea symptoms are severe, this may be a sign of some serious medical conditions. So if you see any of these dyspnea symptoms, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. 

Dyspnea Causes

 dyspnea due to high altitude

An episode of air hunger is not always in association with a person suffering from dyspnea. A person can feel air hunger due to various reasons like intense exercising, going through major changes in temperature, or travel to high altitude places. 

However, shortness of breath is generally a sign of many health issues. Although sometimes it can be just a simple case of being overweight or out of shape, and regular workout may improve the shortness of breath symptoms. 

Other than this, if a person experiences shortness of breath suddenly, this may be an indicator of acute dyspnea symptoms. 

Acute dyspnea can be due to many reasons. Some of them are:

  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Inhaling something that chokes or blocks the air passage or food disorders like bulimia where purging or binge eating might cause choking.
  • Anemia
  • Serious blood loss 
  • Failure of heart
  • Hypotension or, as commonly known, low blood pressure
  • Exposure to carbon monoxide at high levels
  • Pulmonary embolism 
  • Lung collapsing
  • Hiatal hernia

Dyspnea is also common among people suffering from a terminal illness. 

In cases where a person suffers from shortness of breath for more than a month, it is known as chronic dyspnea. 

Some chronic dyspnea causes are:

  • Asthma
  • Heart problems
  • Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that leads to scarring of the tissues in the lungs 
  • COPD
  • Obesity

Some other health problems that can be the cause of air hunger are:

  • Croup
  • Lung cancer
  • Condition of pleurisy, which is inflammation in the surrounding tissues of the lungs
  • Traumatic lung injury
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pulmonary edema, a condition when too much fluid gets accumulated in the lungs
  • Sarcoidosis, when in the lungs, a cluster of cells grows.
  • Pulmonary hypertension

Other than these, air hunger or dyspnea can also be linked to some heart problems. These are:

  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Pericarditis, a condition when the tissues surrounding the heart gets inflated 
  • Cardiomyopathy, a range of various diseases which affect the muscles of the heart
  • Heart failure

Dyspnea Treatment

Dyspnea treatment depends on the causes of the problem. A person who has dyspnea symptoms of dyspnea on exertion reduces when a person relaxes and stops doing any activity like running. 

In severe cases of dyspnea, a supplemental oxygen supply is needed to reduce the dyspnea symptoms. People who already have asthma or are suffering from COPD can inhale a bronchodilator if necessary. 

In cases of COPD, a healthcare professional works with the person suffering from shortness of breath to help them reduce the dyspnea symptoms and breath easily. 

The process of treatment involves the development of the treatment plan, which helps them to prevent acute episodes and helps in slowing the progression of overall shortness of breath. 

If the hunger for air is due to asthmatic conditions, then the treatment generally involves medication such as steroids. While in cases where air hunger is due to any bacteria infection, the air hunger symptoms reduce when a person takes antibiotics. 

In some cases, other opiates like the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or the drugs for anxiety can also be helpful. Breathing muscle stretching and pursed-lip breathing exercises can also be helpful in reducing the symptoms if the person is facing shortness of breath due to COPD. 

Although supplemental oxygen supply is essential in some cases, in most cases, the dyspnea symptoms reduce when a person relaxes and stops doing any heavy work. In tests, low blood oxygen levels can also be seen if a person has shortness of breath. 


Some of the methods and precautions you can take to avoid air hunger are:

  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid passive smoking wherever possible.
  • Avoid other triggers like the fumes from any chemical or any other environmental triggers like wood smoke.
  • Losing weight is also helpful as it lowers the stress over the lungs and heart, thus making it easy to breathe while strengthening the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. 
  • If visiting any high altitude places, first accumulate to the altitudes as this will help in reducing the air hunger. Lowering the exercising levels while at higher altitudes can also be helpful in dyspnea. 

Specific Groups At Risk Of Dyspnea

  • Pregnant women, according to the Cleveland clinic center for continuing education, the low or mild shortness of breath symptoms are common in women during pregnancy. 
  • People suffering from any serious health condition or old age. For people who have any serious health conditions as in advanced stages of the disease, the stress on the lungs and heart increases and can cause air hunger.
  • Infants can also face shortness of breath as air hunger is a common pediatric emergency. Other causes in the infants are also the inhalation of any foreign objects or epiglottis inflammation. 

These people must be extra careful as they are at higher risk of dyspnea, and acute shortness of breath can occur in them. 

Bottom Line

The outlook for the people who are suffering from air hunger depends on the causes of shortness of breath. If a person is facing air hunger due to any health condition like non-severe asthma or pneumonia, then the dyspnea symptoms can easily be lowered, and shortness of breath be reduced or eliminated. 

However, if a person is facing shortness of breath due to any chronic health conditions, the situation may deteriorate over time and thus need immediate health services. 

Patients with shortness of breath need proper medical care and work with the professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. 


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