Shortness of Breath

Respiratory Conditions

Difficulty breathing is often frightening, and can be symptom of ailments as serious heart attack or other heart problems (see “Chest Pain”). However, it may also signal a wide range of other conditions, including asthma, allergic reactions, pneumonia, and anxiety attacks.

Asthma is a condition of airway narrowing and spasm. This results in difficulty breathing and wheezing. Many things can trigger an asthma exacerbation or attack, including viral infections, acid reflux, pollen, animal dander, infection, cigarette smoke, exercise (especially in very humid or cold air), and stress. Treatment for asthma is highly effective. When properly treated, asthma rarely represents a limitation to athletic or other pursuits.


Most causes of shortness of breath are not preventable. However, if you are asthmatic, try to avoid irritants that trigger your flare-ups and use the medications as prescribed by your medical provider.


  • Call 911 immediately for shortness of breath with any symptoms of heart attack (chest pain, sweating, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or an irregular heartbeat). Most causes of new-onset shortness of breath require immediate or urgent evaluation by a medical provider
  • Talk with your medical provider about the best options for treating asthma