When to see a doctorBy Mayo Clinic staff
Call 911 or get emergency medical help if you have:
- Severe shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and affects your ability to function
- Severe shortness of breath with headache, insomnia, fluid retention and cough at high elevations (above 8,000 feet, or about 2,400 meters) — these are signs and symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema, which can be fatal without appropriate care
See your doctor as soon as possible if you have:
- Shortness of breath after slight exertion or when you're at rest
- Shortness of breath that gets worse when you exercise or are physically active
- Abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath or a feeling that you're choking — these may be symptoms of sleep apnea
To cope with chronic shortness of breath try to:
- Stop smoking. If you've been diagnosed with COPD or other lung disease, the single most important thing you can do is to quit smoking.
- Avoid passive smoke. Avoid places where others smoke. Secondhand smoke can cause further lung damage.
- Get regular exercise. It may seem difficult to exercise when you have trouble breathing, but regular exercise can improve your overall strength and endurance.
- Barrett KE, et al. Ganong's Review of Medical Physiology. 24th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=741. Accessed Nov. 2, 2012.
- Tintinalli JE, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6351736. Accessed Nov. 2, 2012.
- Acute hypoxemic respiratory failure (AHRF, ARDS). The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/print/critical_care_medicine/respiratory_failure_and_mechanical_ventilation/acute_hypoxemic_respiratory_failure_ahrf_ards.html. Accessed Nov. 2, 2012.
- Kent BD, et al. Hypoxemia in patients with COPD: Cause, effects, and disease progression. International Journal of COPD. 2011;6:199.
- Nussbaumer-Ochsner Y, et al. Sleep and breathing in high altitude pulmonary edema susceptible subjects at 4,559 meters. Sleep. 2012;35:1413.