When to see a doctor

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Seek emergency care if you have shortness of breath that:

  • Comes on fast, affects your ability to function or happens with symptoms such as chest pain.
  • Happens above 8,000 feet (about 2,400 meters) and occurs with a cough, rapid heartbeat or weakness. These are symptoms of fluid leaking from blood vessels into the lungs, called high-altitude pulmonary edema. This can be deadly.

See your doctor as soon as possible if you:

  • Become short of breath after slight physical effort or when you're at rest.
  • Have shortness of breath that you wouldn't expect from a certain activity and your current fitness and health.
  • Wake up at night with a gasp or a feeling that you're choking. These may be symptoms of sleep apnea.


These tips could help you cope with ongoing shortness of breath:

  • If you smoke, quit. This is one of the most important things you can do if you have a health condition that causes hypoxemia. Smoking makes medical problems worse and harder to treat. If you need help quitting, talk with your health care provider.
  • Stay away from secondhand smoke. It can cause more lung damage.
  • Get regular exercise. Ask your provider what activities are safe for you. Regular exercise can boost your strength and endurance.

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March 24, 2023