Your respiratory system includes your airways, lungs and the muscles that help you breathe. This system including tissues and organs controls how you take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.
At times when heavy breathing does occur, it is usually brought on by health problems, like asthma, or from over-exerting yourself. If you have heavy breathing, you may have times where you feel breathless, and a heaviness in your chest. Your physician can help in diagnosing the cause and in treating it.
You most often breathe heavily after you’ve had a hard exercise workout, but there are times when this can be a concern, medically. If you are just sitting around and you begin to breathe hard, this may be a valid reason for medical concern. Various conditions could cause it.
What Conditions Cause Heavy Breathing?
Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory lung disease. It causes a swelling and inflammation of the airways, which makes it easier for air to get into and out of the lungs. Some of the more common asthma triggers include:
- Food allergies
- Strong fragrancesincrea
- Allergens like dust or pollen
- A cold or the flu
Some people with asthma may note that exercise induces asthma attacks. Breathing treatments and specific medications can correct mild asthma. If you experience a flare-up, you may experience chest tightness, heavy breathing, excessive wheezing or coughing or feel short of breath.
If someone is obese, his body mass is increased, so his heart and lungs have to work harder in order to provide the oxygen he needs. His lungs may not always be able to continue working at high capacity, so he may experience heavy breathing or gasping for air, even when not doing strenuous exercise. Luckily for these people, even a relatively small loss in weight will improve the condition.
Anxiety in general refers to apprehensive or nervous feelings about something. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that more than 40 million adults 18 years or older experience anxiety at some level.
If someone has extreme anxiety, he may experience symptoms that include sudden fatigue, breathing heavily, sudden trembling, increased sweating or an increase in heart rate. Heavy breathing may lead to hyperventilation, which can decrease the oxygen levels in their blood if it isn’t corrected, or even lead to possible brain damage.
Even though people know smoking side effects, many people worldwide still smoke. Some people even continue smoking after they are already experiencing problems in breathing.
Cigarette smoke is inhaled directly into the lungs, and it damages the airways and lungs’ own filters, which normally would prevent bacterial lung infection. When those parts of the body are damaged, the lungs become even more susceptible to medical problems, many of which are linked directly to heavy breathing.
- Cardiovascular Problems
At times, breathing heavily doesn’t have as much to do with the lungs as it does with the cardiovascular system. Blood needs to be properly oxygenated, which means that the lungs and the heart must function properly.
If a person’s heart doesn’t pump blood properly while the lungs properly pump oxygen, blood could become over-oxygenized. When this occurs, the affected person could experience heavy breathing, even if he is sitting and resting.
- Sleep Apnea
As one of the possible causes of breathing heavily, sleep apnea seems frightening, since it actually means that some people will stop breathing completely, in their sleep. In most cases, the breathing begins on its own again, but this isn’t always true. Sleep apnea is most easily identified by the severity of a person’s snoring. Sleep apnea is usually brought on or exacerbated by smoking, asthma, obesity or other conditions.
Most people know of emphysema, but not very many know fully what this condition does. Emphysema is chronic, so it affects the lungs progressively throughout the whole of a person’s life.
Emphysema leads to blockages that are damaging to the delicate air sacs in lungs. This makes it very difficult for lungs to properly function, by effectively limiting how much oxygen is transferred from outside of the body into the bloodstream. This leads to breathing problems. The most common causes of emphysema include protein deficiency and extended cigarette smoking.
Some people have seasonal allergies, particularly during the spring months, when the plants are blooming. This makes it hard for them to breathe if they go outside. Other people may suffer from allergies that run year round, with triggers like dust, pet hair or other pollutants.
Allergies to certain foods can also create problems in breathing by preventing the proper flow of oxygen in the airway. People with allergies often experience eye irritation, wheezing or heavy breathing when they are exposed to an allergen.
Treating Heavy Breathing
- Avoiding Triggers
Nearly all breathing issues are set off by triggers of some sort. This may include increased levels of activity, allergens in the air, obesity and smoking, among others. The best way to avoid heavy breathing is to simply avoid your triggers whenever you can.
If your seasonal allergies are severe, you should look into wearing a face mask whenever you go outdoors. You can even wear a mask while indoors, if you’re cleaning, to avoid dander, dust and other allergens.
If you smoke and suffer from emphysema, join a group that will help you quit. This will allow your lungs to function at their most efficient capacity.
- Use Prescribed or Recommended Medications
Avoiding triggers helps with heavy breathing related to allergies. In addition, some medications will reduce or even eliminate episodes of breathing heavily in people with breathing issues.
If you have seasonal allergies, you will get welcome relief when you take antihistamines and nasal spray or pill type decongestants. Antihistamines like these help in the reduction of inflammation in the airway, to ensure that breathing is easier.
If you have very severe allergies, consider getting allergy shots that will give you a more powerful and long-lasting antihistamine dose.
Asthma is treated either with inhaled or oral drugs that will prevent or promptly reduce inflammation in the airways.
When should you See a Physician?
If you experience heavy breathing or any of the other problems with breathing that we’ve covered in this article, see your physician, so that your condition may be accurately diagnosed and then properly treated.