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This Is What It's Really Like to Have Shortness of Breath

Best Life logo Best Life 3/30/2020 Colby Hall
a woman in a blue shirt © Provided by Best Life

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread globally, more and more individuals are growing increasingly concerned that they might have the COVID-19 contagion. Given the dramatic rise in those diagnosed with the coronavirus, one of the main symptoms—along with fever and cough—that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to watch out for is shortness of breath. But how can you tell if this particular symptom might be related to coronavirus, or if it's caused by something else entirely?

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is described as "tightness in [the] chest" and occurs when the lungs are "not getting enough air," according to American Lung Association (ALA). And, the Mayo Clinic says, it can cause "a feeling of suffocation."

It's important to note, however, that there are similar breathing issues that aren't categorized as dyspnea—shallow breathing, for example. "Technically, shallow breathing means shorter inhaling and exhaling than normal breathing but with an equal cadence," says pulmonologist Sandeep Gupta, MD, of UnityPoint Health. "While in shortness of breath, inhalation is usually much shorter than exhalation."

Another way to help identify whether or not trouble breathing is due to coronavirus is to consider other potential causes, a common one of which happens to be anxiety. If anxiety or panic is indeed the source of the problem, the symptom would likely subside relatively quickly in comparison to the persistent shortness of breath often brought on by coronavirus.

"If shortness of breath continues for a couple of hours and doesn't get better or comes back, it's always safest to seek medical attention," Gupta says. "Waiting too long can make the disease progress and get more complex."

The CDC agrees with Gupta, noting that "trouble breathing" is considered an emergency warning sign for COVID-19, one for which you should get medical attention immediately. So when in doubt, call your doctor and get their opinion as to how you should proceed. And for more things you need to know about COVID-19, 13 Coronavirus Facts You Don't Already Know.

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