Call: +43-1-40180-8700 -

Difficulty Breathing can be a Symptom of

Difficulty breathing: what health problems is it a symptom of?

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Popp is a specialist in pneumology and attending physician at the Wiener Privatklinik in the Austrian capital. He specializes in pulmonology, allergy and immunology, pulmonary function laboratory, endoscopy and consultancy. He has been in practice since 1993. From 1996 to 2015 he was medical director of the Healthy Lungs Institute for Respiratory and Lung Diseases in Vienna.

Since 2015, he has been Medical Director of the "Center for Long-Term Ventilation and Lung Diseases" at the PDO.


Prof. Popp, what does labored breathing really mean?

Difficulty breathing means that the patient has the feeling that he is not getting enough air. Shortness of breath is a sensation between a subjective "should" and a possible "existing," i.e., that the patient may be short of breath (short of breath) even though many of the findings are not bad. However, it is often the case that an organic disease lies behind the shortness of breath. These diseases are pulmonary or cardiac, or anemia, for example. Shortness of breath should clear up relatively quickly if it occurs in acute form. If it persists longer, one has some time.


What could be the cause of shortness of breath?

The cause of shortness of breath in the lungs are usually asthmatic complaints that occur due to allergies, shortness of breath occurs often during infections, but there can also be many other causes. In older people who smoke it is often due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but the cause in acute or recurrent breathlessness can also be pulmonary embolism or rare diseases such as pneumothorax. In addition, cardiac diseases should certainly also be thought of and should be clarified by differential diagnosis. This means that we often think of allergies in young patients, cardiovascular disease in older patients, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in smokers, and sleep apnoea in people who are breathless during sleep. It is also important to ask about any accompanying symptoms (cough, airway noise, phlegm or pain).


But when accompanied by other symptoms, such as fatigue, chest pain, a lump in the throat or swelling, what might signal difficulty breathing?

These accompanying symptoms point to possible more specific diseases, such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), pulmonary embolism, lung cancer, sleep apnea, or others.


Which is more dangerous: difficulty breathing when straining or during sleep?

Shortness of breath is most dangerous when it occurs in acute form or worsens acutely. Dyspnoea on exertion may be an indication of asthma or an indication of heart disease. Nocturnal dyspnoea may be a symptom of sleep apnoea, and sounds during breathing may be a sign of respiratory disease. In combination with leg edema, dyspnea may be a sign of heart failure.


When should we see a specialist?

In the event of new symptoms or worsening of already known symptoms, further clarification should be carried out, ideally with the help of a pulmonary specialist, usually with a lung function test and chest X-ray, along with a chest CT scan or additionally with a cardiologist and internist.


How can breathing problems be treated?

Respiratory problems are usually treated according to their cause. Typically in the case of obstruction (narrowed airways) - by inhalation therapy to open the bronchi and, depending on the cause in asthma and COPD - also by anti-inflammatory therapy. In cases of severe obstruction, advanced therapies are available in the form of antibody therapies or targeted therapies. In the case of allergies - specific therapies and prophylaxis, and in the case of chronic bronchitis by drug treatment in conjunction with physical methods to mobilize mucus, a particular example of bronchiectasis.


Contact your Wiener Privatklinik today for more information on the topic and beyond! Our core medical specialties include Traumatology, Cardiovascular Medicine, Orthopedics and more! We are dedicated to providing excellent care to our patients and optimal working conditions for our attending physicians and staff through first-class medical care, skilled nursing and modern hospital management.