Girl blowing dandelion

Shortness Of Breath

Shortness of breath can be a very uncomfortable and distressing thing to suffer through. There are many diseases and conditions that can leave a person gasping for air. In most cases, the underlying cause will need to be treated before any relief can be found. People suffering from shortness of breath related to emphysema and/or COPD will find this page especially useful because there is very little treatment available for these diseases.

What Drives Our Breathing?

In order to quickly recover from an episode of shortness of breath, it is important to understand how the body decides that we need to take a breath. Many people seem to think that oxygen is what controls our drive to breathe. However, the fact is oxygen has very little to do with whether or not we want to take a breath. Carbon dioxide, CO2, is actually the main factor that effects our breathing. If you will recall from highschool biology class - we breath in oxygen and we breathe out carbon dioxide. When CO2 levels in the body are increased, the brain tells the body to breathe faster and/or deeper until CO2 levels return to normal.

What Causes CO2 Levels to Increase?

Carbon dioxide is produced by muscles. Any time a muscle is used, it will produce CO2 as a waste product. This is true for every human being. A good example is running up the stairs. Any body that runs up a flight of stairs will get at least a little short of breath. This is because the muscles used to climb the stairs have caused the CO2 level in the body to rise. The brain then tells the body to breathe more rapidly until CO2 levels return to normal.

Don't Panic

It is important not to panic when you find yourself short of breath. When you panic or become nervous, your muscles will tense up. As we learned earlier, muscles produce CO2 when they are being used or tensed and this will only make your episode of shortness of breath last longer. Why suffer any longer than you have to?

Sit Down and Relax

Any time you find yourself getting short of breath, you should find a place to sit down while you catch your breath. Standing up requires you to use more muscles than sitting down. Remember, when more muscles are used more CO2 is produced. Don't forget, you are trying to get rid of CO2 when you get short of breath; you certainly don't want produce more CO2.

Exhale Completely, Then Breathe In.

During an episode of shortness of breath, the brain tells the body to move as much air in and out of the lungs as possible. As air moves in and out of the lungs, CO2 levels will begin come back down to normal. When CO2 levels return normal, the episode of shortness of breath will be over. Many diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, COPD, and asthma limit the ability to exhale efficiently and will require a little extra time during exhalation. So, always take the time to exhale completely before you take in your next breath. This should allow for maximum ventilation and a quicker recovery from the episode.

When to Seek Help

As the beginning of this page states, there are many different diseases and conditions that can cause shortness of breath. Some of these conditions are life threatening and will require immediate medical attention. The type of shortness of breath discussed on this page, shortness of breath due to exertion or exercise, is often miserable and scary, but rarely life threatening. However, you should always seek professional medical attention immediately if you feel that you have a medical emergency.