Few sensations are as frightening as not being able to get enough air. Although healthy people occasionally may experience shortness of breath, especially in extreme temperatures, after running up a flight of stairs or when in high altitude, persistent shortness of breath could be a sign of a medical problem.
"Shortness of breath is not a symptom of getting older," says Maureen O'Donnell, Mayo Clinic Health System registered respiratory therapist. "People sometimes blame it on age when it actually is because of a medical condition that can be treated. Most cases of shortness of breath are related to heart or lung conditions. Your heart and lungs are involved in transporting oxygen to your tissues and removing carbon dioxide, so problems with either of these organs can affect your breathing."
Speak with your primary care provider if you have worsening or consistent shortness of breath in these situations:
"You can do many things to improve your lung heath, including getting regular exercise, not smoking and getting prescription medication from your health care provider," says O'Donnell.
Always call 911 if you experience severe shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and affects your ability to function.