When to see a doctor

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Call 911 or get emergency medical help if you have:

  • Severe shortness of breath that comes on suddenly and affects your ability to function
  • Severe shortness of breath with headache, insomnia, fluid retention and cough at high elevations (above 8,000 feet, or about 2,400 meters) — these are signs and symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema, which can be fatal without appropriate care

See your doctor as soon as possible if you have:

  • Shortness of breath after slight exertion or when you're at rest
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse when you exercise or are physically active
  • Abrupt awakenings with shortness of breath or a feeling that you're choking — these may be symptoms of sleep apnea

Self-care
To cope with chronic shortness of breath try to:

  • Stop smoking. If you've been diagnosed with COPD or other lung disease, the single most important thing you can do is to quit smoking.
  • Avoid passive smoke. Avoid places where others smoke. Secondhand smoke can cause further lung damage.
  • Get regular exercise. It may seem difficult to exercise when you have trouble breathing, but regular exercise can improve your overall strength and endurance.
Jan. 04, 2013