What’s making you feel breathless?

Huffing and puffing your way up the stairs isn't necessarily just a sign you're unfit - it could be a symptom of a health problem. We outline some of the most common conditions taking our breath away.

 
 
 
  • Boy being given asthma inhaler by woman
    Kate Whiting
    By   | Journalist, Press Association
    Last updated: 09 August 2014, 12:06 BST

    Symptoms: Breathlessness, tight chest, coughing and wheezing – a whistling sound when you breathe. Symptoms tend to be worse at night or early in the morning, or during or after exercise, or when somebody's exposed to certain 'triggers' like dust, pollen and certain types of animal hair.

    Who's at risk? Asthma is quite a common condition with around 5.4 million children and adults currently being treated for it in the UK. It often comes on during childhood but can start during adulthood too. There's sometimes a family history, so people whose parents and siblings have asthma may be at higher risk. There's also a link with common allergies, to things such as dust, pollen and pets which, as mentioned above, can trigger symptoms.

    Go to the doctor: If you're concerned that you have asthma, it's important to go to your GP so they can assess your symptoms and ensure you're treated appropriately. Those already diagnosed should seek medical help immediately if there's a chance they're suffering an asthma attack - when symptoms worsen to the extent that you're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep and your inhaler isn't helping. If symptoms continue to worsen, dial 999. In rare cases, without urgent medical attention, asthma attacks can be fatal.

    How to treat it: Most people can manage their asthma very well and carry on with life as normal, provided they have the right treatment and avoid specific triggers that they know make their symptoms worse. 'Reliever' inhalers relax your airwaves, making it easier to breathe again when symptoms flare up, while 'preventer' inhalers can help stop attacks happening.

     
     
     

    Related stories  

    Tags  

     
  • A woman lighting up a cigarette
    Kate Whiting
    By   | Journalist, Press Association
    Last updated: 09 August 2014, 12:06 BST

    Symptoms: COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and includes illnesses like bronchitis and emphysema. You might find yourself out of breath more often, especially when active, have a cough you can't shift, horrible phlegm and suffer from more chest infections than usual.

    Who's at risk? Smoking is the main cause of developing COPD, due to the damage it causes to the lining of the lungs. The risk is especially high for people who've smoked for a long time, with around 10-25% of smokers developing the condition. Passive smoking could also be a factor for some people, as well as exposure to fumes and air pollution.

    Go to the doctor: As soon as you think you're breathless, it's best get a test done, especially if you're a smoker. Getting an early diagnosis could help slow the progression of the disease.

    How to treat it: There's no cure, but treatment and lifestyle changes could help slow the progress and reduce the severity of symptoms. If you're a smoker, kicking the habit will be your best bet. Inhalers and tablets can help too, and some people may be given physiotherapy and special exercises. In extreme cases, oxygen therapy may be needed which can usually be done with a tank at home.

     
     
     

    Related stories  

    Tags  

     
  • A doctor listening to a woman's chest with a stethoscope
    Kate Whiting
    By   | Journalist, Press Association
    Last updated: 09 August 2014, 12:06 BST

    Symptoms: Difficulty breathing - even when sitting still, coughing up phlegm, chest pain, fever with sweating and shivering, rapid pulse and generally feeling unwell. Symptoms can develop quickly or more slowly over a few days.

    Who's at risk? Pneumonia can affect anybody, but those who are more vulnerable are most at risk, including babies, elderly people and smokers. People with chronic lung disease, asthma, COPD, diabetes and heart disease are more at risk.

    Go to the doctor: As soon as you're worried. There are different types of pneumonia and some viral types can lead to problems with the lungs, liver or kidneys. Pneumonia can also develop into a very serious illness, so a quick diagnosis and treatment is vital.

    How to treat it: Antibiotics, bed rest and paracetamol to treat the temperature are usually the first line of treatment. If symptoms don't settle after treatment, or complications develop, you might need a trip to the hospital.

     
     
     

    Related stories  

    Tags  

     
  • A woman breathing into a brown paper bag
    Kate Whiting
    By   | Journalist, Press Association
    Last updated: 09 August 2014, 12:06 BST

    Symptoms: Sudden surge of anxiety and shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, hot flushes, chills, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, pins and needles. During an attack, people may feel extremely overwhelmed, frightened and disorientated and like they're going to pass out.

    Who's at risk? Women are twice as likely as men to experience panic, or anxiety, attacks and they most commonly effect people in their 20s, though anybody can potentially suffer from them. They're quite common, with around one in 10 people suffering them at some point or other, and they tend to be triggered by something stressful going on in your life.

    Go to the doctor: If you're having repeated attacks. You might need to have blood tests and a chest X-ray to make sure the symptoms aren't a sign of anything else going on.

    How to treat it: When an attack strikes, stay where you are and try to calm down and focus on slow, deep breathing. If you're hyperventilating, holding your breath for 10 seconds before breathing out again slowly - repeating this for a minute - can help. Speaking with your doctor could help reassure you that the attacks aren't a sign of a serious physical ailment but there are things that can be done to help.

    Counselling and addressing the root cause of any stress and anxiety you're experiencing could really help, as could relaxation techniques like yoga or acupuncture and exercise.

     
     
     

    Related stories  

    Tags  

     
  • An x-ray showing lung cancer
    Kate Whiting
    By   | Journalist, Press Association
    Last updated: 09 August 2014, 12:06 BST

    Symptoms: Breathlessness, persistent coughing and chest infections that don't get better, weight loss, chest pain.

    Who's at risk? Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, affecting both men and women. People who have smoked for 20 years or more are at high risk. However, worryingly, 20% of the new cases each year are people who've never smoked, so it can affect us all, though it's very rare in people under 40.

    Go to the doctor: If you (smokers in particular) notice a change in your cough. If it goes on for three weeks, you must see the doctor and get a chest X-ray. Speak to your GP if you're experiencing any breathing difficulties and chest pains too.

    How to treat it: Early diagnosis is crucial for treating lung cancer. If you're diagnosed, depending on how far the cancer has spread, you may need surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. If you've had surgery, you'll be shown exercises to help you breathe more easily.

     

    More information on lung health, plus support and information for people living with lung conditions, can be found through the British Lung Foundation.

     
     
     

    Related stories  

    Tags  

     

Most Popular