Breathing problems can come on slowly or quickly, and can be just annoying, or can be very serious.
The most common causes of feeling short of breath are:
- lung problems, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- heart problems, such as a cardiovascular disease and heart failure
- an infection, like pneumonia
- an panic attack or anxiety
Other causes of suddenly feeling short of breath are:
- allergic reactions
- lung collapse
- a blockage from a clot in one of the blood vessels in the lung (pulmonary embolism)
- rare lung conditions.
Some people feel short of breath long term. This can be caused by:
- being unfit
- being obese
- having poorly controlled asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- heart failure or other heart problems.
The type of treatment you need depends on how unwell you feel, how suddenly it has come on and what other conditions you might have.
You should call triple zero (000) for an ambulance if you:
- suddenly become so short of breath you can 't speak in sentences
- feel short of breath and also have pains in your chest, arm or jaw, or feel faint or sick.
Make an appointment to see your doctor if, as well as being out of breath, you:
- have swollen feet or ankles
- feel more short of breath when you lie down
- have fever, chills and a cough
- have blue lips or fingertips
- make noises when you breathe
- have to put a lot of effort into breathing
- are getting worse.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your breathing problems, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: August 2017