There are many reasons one can feel short of breath, ranging from participating in vigorous exercise, having some type of lung congestion or blockage, a chronic lung disease, as well as being at a high altitude without enough time to transition from a lower altitude. Obviously, the issues related to exercise and altitude are not expected, temporary, and not usually life changing. One usually stops exercising to allow for recovery, and our bodies eventually adapt to the change in altitude.
What if the shortness of breath is not going away and you don’t know why? You may need to see a physician for some type of testing to make a diagnosis and to get options for treatment or management of your breathing issue. Prior to seeing a physician, try to make note of what you are doing and the time of day when you are feeling short of breath, as well as noting what makes it better. Further things to consider are any other symptoms that are also happening, such as a cough, night sweats, lightheadedness or dizziness, or any other feelings that may not be usual for you. Details about any new prescriptions, recent surgeries, travel abroad or even weight gain need to be added to your history. This information can be very helpful to a physician in sorting out which testing needs to be done and making a diagnosis.
The best place to begin with is to see your primary care physician, and describe your shortness of breath and the details you have gathered. There may be many more questions to be answered, but you will be off to a good start with your history. Your physician will listen to your lungs, along with a general examination, but may perform additional tests in the office. Pulmonary Function Tests or PFTs are done to measure the amount of air you take in, the amount you exhale as well as how efficiently the oxygen is getting from your lungs into the blood stream. This usually requires breathing hard into a machine and placing a probe on your finger to check your oxygen level, and is done fairly quickly.
Author: Cheryl A. Acres RN, CCM