Gasping for Air: 8 Alarming Reasons Behind Labored Breathing

There are many reasons why an individual may have trouble breathing. While some causes are as simple as exertion, there can also be underlying serious factors.

But to understand the reason behind this kind of distress, know what is labored breathing, or Dyspnea.

1. Understanding Dyspnea

Labored breathing or shortness of breath is a condition when the patient suffers from difficulty in breathing, suffocation, feels out of breath, or experiences a general tightness in the chest. The medical term for such an ailment or respiratory distress is dyspnea, which can occur for many reasons – from elementary causes to severe and complicated conditions.

2. The Symptoms of Labored Breathing

The most obvious and glaring indication of labored breathing is any general problem or discomfort felt while breathing. But along with breathing difficulties, there are many more symptoms like:

  • Grunting or wheezing while trying to breathe
  • Cold sweat
  • Mouth, skin, or fingernails turning blue
  • Flared nostrils
  • Sleep Apnea

In most cases, when you experience labored breathing, it is not a cause for concern and can happen due to something as simple as exertion.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay Copyright 2012

Warning signs like extreme chest pain and blue lips can be considered medical emergencies, and such patients should be given immediate medical help.

3. 8 Reasons Behind Labored Breathing

As you have already learned, any form of difficulty or discomfort in breathing can be referred to as labored breathing. The most common medical term to indicate such a condition is Dyspnea which refers to shortness of breath. But along with that, other terms are associated with labored breathing as well.

  • Apnea (Unnatural gaps in breathing)
  • Wheezing (Whistling noise while breathing)
  • Hyperpnea (Deeper and faster breathing)
  • Bradypnea (Very slow breathing)
  • Stridor (Grating noise while breathing)
  • Tachypnea (Fast and shallow breathing)
  • Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath)

Extreme cases include asphyxiation (passing out due to lack of oxygen) and suffocation (airflow blockage) which can be fatal.

But now the question arises of why one might suffer from difficulty in breathing. What are the prime causes behind labored breathing and what are the most effective ways to treat them?

First, you need to learn the reasons that can result in a patient suffering from shortness of breath.

3.1) Asthma Attacks

One of the most common and chronic respiratory diseases, asthma attacks happen when one’s airways narrow and swell which in turn makes it hard to take normal breaths.

Patients generally find relief by using prescribed inhalers that provide medication to their lungs when inhaling. It is possible to treat labored breathing by treating the respiratory disease itself.

3.2) Common Colds

Among the causes of difficult breathing that are most common and comparatively less dangerous is one of the most known kinds of illnesses of all time – the common cold.

Seen more in children and toddlers, a common cold is an upper respiratory affliction and can obstruct someone’s airways and thereby making it difficult to breathe.

Labored Breathing in Children
Image by Victoria_Regen from Pixabay Copyright 2020

3.3) Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a chronic disorder that results in difficulty breathing, wheezing, and excessive formation of phlegm.

Airway tract infections and pneumonia most typically trigger this condition.

3.4) Panic Attacks

Caused by anxiety and panic, this one is more psychological. However, the result is quite physical as the patient finds it incredibly difficult to take breaths.

The symptoms of panic attacks due to anxiety are characterized by shortness of breath, elevated heart rate, and a feeling of tightness or pain in the chest area.

Panic Attack
Source: Depositphotos

3.5) Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot reaches the lungs and reduces the normal blood oxygen levels.

Generally, such clots travel from the patient’s legs to the lungs. In very rare cases it may happen from other parts of the body. This event is known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT.

Some of the most common indications, when your body does not get enough oxygen, include unexpected shortness of breath, arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, anxiety, and sweating.

3.6) Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis or TB is a highly contagious condition that primarily affects the lungs and respiratory system.

Along with coughing blood and chest pains, troubled breathing is another sign of TB. Generally treatable, tuberculous is one of the most infectious diseases in the entire globe right after COVID-19 (another condition characterized by breathing distress).

Lung Diseases
Source: Depositphotos

3.7) Heart Attack

During a heart attack, blockage of arteries makes it hard to take normal breaths, so labored breathing occurs.

Heart attacks are typically ‘silent’ and present almost no outward symptoms. Only discomfort in breathing and pain in the chest area are general indications of a heart attack.

3.8) Congestive Heart Failure

In the case of congestive heart failure or CHF, the heart ceases to operate correctly and fails to pump the normal amount of blood needed for a human being to live and function.

Due to this, fluids can build up in the body, and that can result in labored breathing. This is considered a serious medical emergency, and immediate medical help should be given to the patient.

Medical Emergency
Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay Copyright 2018

So as you can see, while many conditions that cause labored breathing are harmless and easy to treat – it is not the case for all disorders.

Apart from the mentioned conditions, other known disorders that can cause labored breathing include ALS, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, cardiomyopathy, and more.

Some diseases that cause difficulty breathing can also be fatal. Conditions such as heart attack and heart failure can be life-threatening.

So in case you are experiencing what can be considered labored breathing, get immediate medical attention.

4. The Most Effective Treatments for Dyspnea

Image by Jake Parkinson from Pixabay Copyright 2022

As you are already aware labored breathing is not caused due to one single condition but is the result of various diseases.

And therefore the process of treatment depends primarily on the underlying cause of labored breathing. No two disorders have the same cure, and labored breathing caused by asthma will have a different treatment when compared to the shortness of breath caused by a heart attack.

Still, among the most common treatments for labored breathing are:

  • Inhalers
  • Oxygen Therapy
  • Diuretics or Water Pills
  • Cardiac Catheterization

These can provide relief from the pain or discomfort caused by not being able to breathe properly. But the right treatment will include addressing the underlying cause of any difficulty or distress during breathing.

Image by Thomas G. from Pixabay Copyright 2021

5. FAQs

Do you still have queries on dyspnea, what labored breathing is, its symptoms, causes, and treatment? Well, in that case, if you wish to know more, keep reading to find out the explanations to the most frequently asked questions related to what is labored breathing.

5.1) How serious is the condition?

In the simplest of terms, labored breathing refers to shortness of breath and the feeling of not getting sufficient air.

It can happen due to anything as simple as exertion or something as serious as heart failure.

5.2) What are some of the leading causes of difficulty breathing?

When you discover what labored breathing is, you will also discover the primary reasons behind the condition.

Among the most seen and common reasons for breathing difficulties, the causes include asthma, the common cold, tuberculosis, heart attack, and heart failure.

5.3) What are the best and most effective treatments for dyspnea?

The best way to treat labored breathing is to address the underlying condition behind it. To relieve labored breathing, the most effective prescriptions include inhalers, diuretics, cardiac catheterization, and oxygen therapy.

Final Thoughts: All Out of Breath

Living in a time filled with pollution, allergies, and viruses, it is not surprising that a massive part of the world’s population suffers from breathing problems.

Many times these conditions remain undiagnosed, which can end up being fatal. If you ever feel that you are experiencing labored breathing, immediately seek medical attention, inform your healthcare provider, or consult your doctor.

Last Updated on December 25, 2023 by