Shortness of Breath (Adult)

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    Shortness of Breath, Adult

    Shortness of Breath, Adult

    Shortness of breath is when a person has trouble breathing or when a person feels like she or he is having trouble breathing in enough air. Shortness of breath could be a sign of a medical problem.

    Follow these instructions at home:

    A sign showing that a person should not smoke.


    • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco. These products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes. This also includes cigars and pipes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
    • Avoid things that can irritate your airways, including:
      • Smoke. This includes campfire smoke, forest fire smoke, and secondhand smoke from tobacco products. Do not smoke or allow others to smoke in your home.
      • Mold.
      • Dust.
      • Air pollution.
      • Chemical fumes.
      • Things that can give you an allergic reaction (allergens) if you have allergies. Common allergens include pollen from grasses or trees and animal dander.
    • Keep your living space clean and free of mold and dust.

    General instructions

    • Pay attention to any changes in your symptoms.
    • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider. This includes oxygen therapy and inhaled medicines.
    • Rest as needed.
    • Return to your normal activities as told by your health care provider. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
    • Keep all follow-up visits. This is important.

    Contact a health care provider if:

    • Your condition does not improve as soon as expected.
    • You have a hard time doing your normal activities, even after you rest.
    • You have new symptoms.
    • You cannot walk up stairs or exercise the way that you normally do.

    Get help right away if:

    • Your shortness of breath gets worse.
    • You have shortness of breath when you are resting.
    • You feel light-headed or you faint.
    • You have a cough that is not controlled with medicines.
    • You cough up blood.
    • You have pain with breathing.
    • You have pain in your chest, arms, shoulders, or abdomen.
    • You have a fever.

    These symptoms may be an emergency. Get help right away. Call 911.
    • Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away.
    • Do not drive yourself to the hospital.


    • Shortness of breath is when a person has trouble breathing enough air. It can be a sign of a medical problem.
    • Avoid things that irritate your lungs, such as smoking, pollution, mold, and dust.
    • Pay attention to changes in your symptoms and contact your health care provider if you have a hard time completing daily activities because of shortness of breath.

    This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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