Shortness of breath

When you're short of breath, it feels as if you can't get enough air.


When you're short of breath, it feels as if you can't get enough air. Air hunger is very frightening and often accompanied by a panic attack. The main causes include lung diseases and heart conditions. The condition can be improved by fresh air and sitting with the arms resting on the knees.


Main symptoms

  • Intense feeling of not getting enough air
  • Sensation of fear or panic
  • In serious cases, lips and fingers turn blue
  • In extreme cases, loss of consciousness and respiratory arrest may occur

Other symptoms

  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Racing heart

Causes and treatment


  • Diseases of the lungs and respiratory tract
  • Heart conditions
  • Disorders of the nervous system (weakening of respiratory muscles)
  • Hyperventilation, panic (as trigger)

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Pulmonary function test (PFT)
  • ECG (electrocardiogram) to examine the heart
  • Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram)
  • Blood test (measurement of blood oxygen levels, among others)
  • Lung x-ray
  • Lung CT scan (computed tomography)
  • Bronchoscopy
Possible therapies
  • Depends on the causes
  • Oxygen delivery through a mask
  • Medication (e.g. diuretics for water on the lungs)

What can I do myself?

  • Sit with the arms resting on the knees (“tripod position”)
  • Remove tight-fitting clothes
  • Open the window, sit in front of a fan
  • Avoid excess weight as a preventive measure
  • Don't smoke

When to see a doctor?

  • Growing shortness of breath needs to be examined by a doctor
  • Severe shortness of breath counts as an emergency


Shortness of breath, Dyspnoe

Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.