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What Is Shortness of Breath?


Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is the inability to get enough air. It is not uncommon for it to create a feeling of panic and anxiety as you struggle for breath. Shortness of breath is often accompanied by a tightening or heavy sensation in the chest, along with gasping or hungering for air, and it can feel as though you are going to suffocate. Needless to say, feeling shortness of breath causes significant discomfort, and can be quite a frightening experience. Discovering the reasons for shortness of breath in your life can help alleviate the fear and will ultimately help you find the right shortness of breath treatment for you.


So, what causes shortness of breath? COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causes damage to the lungs, which makes it more difficult to breathe. People with COPD must exert more effort to inhale and exhale air properly, which can result in feeling short of breath. Additionally, COPD is associated with both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, both of which cause shortness of breath. The shortness of breath associated with emphysema results from damage to the air sacs in the lungs, in which either the walls that separate the air sacs are destroyed or they lose their stretchiness. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, causes shortness of breath because airways become partly blocked by irritation that causes inflammation and swelling, and because the lungs produce excess mucus. COPD is just one of many shortness of breath causes, but regardless of what causes shortness of breath, it can be a terrifying feeling and one that should be managed and treated.

Unfortunately, shortness of breath and COPD go hand-in-hand. However, it can be helpful to know that breathing through the discomfort of feeling short of breath will not cause further damage. In fact, regardless of the reasons for shortness of breath, if you know the breathing techniques to use when you are experiencing shortness of breath, you can actually improve your body’s ability to intake air properly. 


What causes shortness of breath to increase in COPD? If you are feeling short of breath more often than normal, or experiencing increased shortness of breath symptoms, these may be signs of COPD flare-up. Increased shortness of breath can also indicate respiratory infections, pneumonia or flu, all of which are known reasons for shortness of breath and can lead to COPD exacerbation and the possibility of hospitalization. If you are experiencing more shortness of breath than usual, contact your doctor right away to ensure that your symptoms do not worsen and to avoid complications if possible. From there, ask about shortness of breath treatment.


Based on what causes shortness of breath, there are a variety of ways to treat shortness of breath, depending on the severity of your symptoms and the stage of your COPD. You may be prescribed medication, like bronchodilators or glucocorticosteroids, as shortness of breath treatment helps open your airways and makes it easier to breathe. Make sure you take your medication as directed to get the maximum therapeutic benefits. Your doctor may also prescribe pulmonary rehabilitation for shortness of breath treatment to help you learn to breathe and cough more effectively, as well as help you learn stretching and strengthening exercises that help you increase your flexibility and stamina while reducing shortness of breath. You may also be prescribed oxygen therapy for shortness of breath treatment, particularly while you are active, in order to help increase your oxygen intake so you are not feeling short of breath when you are active. Your doctor can help you choose the right shortness of breath treatment to help minimize all of your symptoms, including feeling short of breath.


Supplemental oxygen can help improve shortness of breath and COPD symptoms in some patients. Your doctor will determine whether it is the right shortness of breath treatment for you. In many cases, oxygen therapy helps increase oxygen intake, which can reduce the frequency of feeling short of breath, as well as reducing shortness of breath symptoms. Oxygen therapy can also help improve your ability to remain active, increasing your stamina and helping you feel more alert. It is important to understand that your health care providers prescribe oxygen therapy to help treat the symptoms of your COPD, but it will not completely eliminate shortness of breath. With COPD, your reasons for shortness of breath symptoms cannot be eliminated, and oxygen therapy cannot stop your COPD from progressing. However, it can help you manage your disease and treat shortness of breath symptoms so you are able to live more normally. If your shortness of breath and COPD are impacting your ability to live a full life, ask your health care team about oxygen therapy today. If you have other shortness of breath causes besides COPD, it is still helpful to talk to your doctor about whether oxygen therapy could be the shortness of breath treatment for you.

Wondering how oxygen therapy will impact your ability to take part in your regular activities and social life? Inogen offers portable oxygen concentrators that can further improve your ability to participate in your life, allowing you to receive oxygen treatments at home or on the go. Our small, lightweight portable oxygen concentrators allow you to get the oxygen you need, anytime, anywhere, for better independence, freedom and mobility, even with supplemental oxygen. 

If you already use high-flow continuous oxygen therapy, but still experience shortness of breath during periods of exertion, you may benefit from the Inogen Tidal Assist Ventilator (TAV®). The Inogen TAV is a small, advanced respiratory assist device that provides a boost of oxygen to the user right when they need it most. The comfortable yet powerful Inogen TAV System can deliver higher flow and pressure than traditional oxygen therapy, and works with recommended compatible oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, airboxes and wall gas to allow the user to control the level of respiratory assistance they need. In studies, the Inogen TAV has been shown to improve oxygen saturation, increase exercise endurance and reduce exertion scores in patients, reducing what causes shortness of breath sensations in many patients. If you need a shortness of breath treatment to complement your current oxygen therapy, the Inogen TAV is an excellent choice.

No matter what causes shortness of breath for you, your reasons for shortness of breath should not hold you back forever. Whether you have COPD or another breathing difficulty, see your doctor to discuss your shortness of breath causes and the right shortness of breath treatment for you. Contact Inogen today and find how our portable oxygen concentrators or Inogen TAV can improve your quality of life by becoming your shortness of breath treatment


“Expert Answers: Shortness of Breath and Supplemental Oxygen.” COPD.net, Health Union, LLC, 22 July 2015, copd.net/answers/sob-and-supplemental-oxygen/

“Shortness of Breath.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 June 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/shortness-of-breath/basics/definition/sym-20050890.

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