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What Is Shortness of Breath?

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 short of breath creates significant discomfort, and can be quite a frightening experience. 

What Causes Shortness of Breath in COPD?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causes damage to the lungs, which makes it more difficult to breath. 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 those walls 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. 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, 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. 

Shortness of Breath: Signs of a Flare-Up

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 to 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. 

Treating 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, to help open your airways and make 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 to help you learn to breathe and cough more effectively, as well as helping 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, 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 treatments to help minimize your symptoms, including feeling short of breath.

Using Supplemental Oxygen for Shortness 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 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. Oxygen therapy cannot stop your COPD from progressing, but 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. 

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. Contact Inogen today and find how our portable oxygen concentrators can improve your quality of life





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