Most people have experienced periods of difficulty breathing, whether it be following intense exercise or while managing a head cold or sinus infection.

Shortness of breath is also one of the primary symptoms of asthma, a condition where the lung’s airways are inflamed and become blocked.

If you have asthma, your lungs are more prone to the irritation that causes shortness of breath. You may experience trouble breathing on a more frequent basis than someone without asthma. For example, you could experience an asthma attack when asthma symptoms worsen without warning, even without the trigger of vigorous physical activity.

Shortness of breath could mean you have asthma, but commonly you would also have additional symptoms such as periods of coughing or wheezing. Other symptoms include:

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult with your doctor to determine whether they are indicators of asthma. These symptoms could also be the result of health conditions besides asthma. Your doctor can conduct assessments to provide you with a proper diagnosis.

To find the underlying cause of your symptoms, your doctor will ask about your medical history and examine you, paying particular attention to your heart and lungs. They may perform tests such as:

These examinations may help determine if your shortness of breath is related to asthma or another medical condition such as:

The specific treatment of your shortness of breath will depend on the underlying cause and its severity. If you have already been diagnosed as having asthma you can determine your action based on the severity of your shortness of breath.

Less severe

For a mild incident, your doctor might recommend using your inhaler and practicing deep or pursed lip breathing.

For shortness of breath that is not a medical emergency, there are at-home treatments such as sitting forward and diaphragmatic breathing. Drinking coffee has also been found to relax the airways of those experiencing asthma and can enhance lung function for short periods of time.

More severe

For an intense period of difficulty breathing or chest pain, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Continuing asthma treatment

Based on your specific needs, your doctor might prescribe medication including

  • inhaled corticosteroids
  • long-acting beta agonists such as formoterol (Perforomist) or salmeterol (Serevent)
  • combination inhalers such as budesonide-formoterol (Symbicort) or fluticasone-salmeterol (Advair Diskus)
  • leukotriene modifiers such as montelukast (Singulair) or zafirlukast (Accolate)

Your doctor may also work with you to determine long-term solutions to shortness of breath that results from asthma. The solutions might include:

  • avoiding pollutants
  • stopping the use of tobacco products
  • creating a plan for when symptoms occur

Shortness of breath may be a result of asthma, but asthma is not the only underlying cause of shortness of breath.

If you are experiencing shortness of breath, make an appointment with your doctor who can conduct assessments to help provide a proper diagnosis and, if necessary, develop a treatment plan.

If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma and experience a sudden onset of shortness of breath or your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest pain, use your inhaler and see your doctor.

Ask your doctor about triggers for the condition and ways to prevent difficulty breathing.