Difficulty breathing - causes, treatment and effective home remedies

Difficulty breathing - causes, treatment and effective home remedies

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Breathing problems - shortness of breath

If it is difficult for us to breathe, it is not uncommon for classic respiratory diseases such as flu or pneumonia to be behind the problem. However, these are not the only health problems that can theoretically cause breathing difficulties. What is more, the causes of such complaints do not necessarily have to be found in a respiratory illness.

How does our breathing work?

In order to understand how breathing difficulties can arise in detail, one has to look at the breathing function of the lung (Pulmo) take a closer look. This is primarily generated by the respiratory muscles, which are located in the chest and, through appropriate muscle contractions, causes the lungs to expand and relax. The most important respiratory muscle in this regard is that located below the lungs diaphragm (Diaphragm). By repeatedly expanding and contracting again, it increases or decreases the lung volume at regular intervals and thus creates the mechanism of breathing in and out.

The diaphragm is supported in its function by the so-called Respiratory muscles. This can be divided into two main muscle groups:

  • Inspiration muscles - these muscles are needed for inhalation (inspiration)
  • Expiratory muscles - These muscles are needed for exhalation

Like the diaphragm, the auxiliary breathing muscles are located in the chest and are stimulated to contract muscles by nerve signals. The signals come from the brain's own Respiratory center, which acts as a clock for the breathing intervals.

If the signal line between the respiratory center and the respiratory muscles is functioning properly, between 17,000 and 20,000 breaths will occur each day. Fresh, oxygen-rich air is here branched into the fine trachea Bronchial system transported to the lungs. It contains the essentials for the further transport of oxygen Alveoli (Alveoli), the ends of which open into the lung's own blood vessels. The oxygen absorbed by the alveoli is distributed through the blood vessels throughout the body. Exhausted air leaves the body later when exhaling in the same way.

Definition of breathing difficulties

All forms of a disturbed respiratory function are now referred to as respiratory problems, which either result from a disturbed signal line or loss of function of the respiratory muscles or the lungs. The complaints in particular include the shortness of breath (Dyspnea), which describes persistent shortness of breath due to breathing difficulties. In the course of shortness of breath, the oxygen intake of the lungs is reduced, which consequently also impairs the adequate oxygen supply to the body.

Depending on the underlying disease, shortness of breath can also be the pre-stage of lung failure and thus an imminent one Apnea Announce (apnea). This is especially the case with very severe lung diseases, airway blockages (e.g. foreign body blockages) and lung injuries. A special form of respiratory arrest is the so-called Sleep apnea, which describes the symptoms of periodic breathing difficulties or breathing interruptions during sleep.

Respiratory diseases as the main cause of breathing difficulties

It is obvious that respiratory diseases lead to a large part of respiratory impairments. The spectrum ranges from harmless infections of the respiratory tract via chronic diseases to tumor diseases in the respiratory tract. For a better overview, a distinction is made between diseases of the upper and lower respiratory tract.

Upper respiratory tract disorders

The upper airways include the mouth, nose and throat, as well as the larynx, which forms the boundary between the upper and lower airways. As a result of illnesses, mostly bacterial, viral or allergic inflammations, but also in the course of injuries, the mucous membranes can swell strongly in this area. The swelling of the mucous membranes usually leads to one Airway narrowing (Obstruction), so that only very small amounts of air can flow into the lungs or be exhaled.

In severe cases, the swelling takes on such extreme proportions that the respiratory tract is completely blocked and the respiratory complaints culminate in acute shortness of breath or even respiratory arrest. Typical clinical pictures that cause corresponding restrictions in breathing are:

  • Allergic runny nose
  • allergic reactions of the upper respiratory tract in general
  • Colds
  • flu
  • Pseudo croup
  • Sore throat
  • Injuries from penetrating foreign bodies
  • Obstruction from strangulation

Danger: Regardless of the cause, the situation of acute shortness of breath is life-threatening and urgently and urgently needs medical attention.

Lower respiratory tract disorders

The lower respiratory tract, i.e. the areas below the larynx to the alveoli, are most often affected by descending infections or chronic diseases. Descending infections from the upper respiratory tract primarily have one here too Swelling of the mucous membrane result, which leads to breathing difficulties. In addition, the immune system tries to catapult the invaded pathogens and foreign substances out of the body through the formation of mucus. The mucus produced sits in the bronchi and is transported with coughing strokes towards the upper respiratory tract.

Often, however, the stuck mucus, due to its persistence and the weakness of the patient, cannot be coughed up completely, remains in place and thus leads to further breathing problems. The reason for this is the fact that the alveoli filled with mucus can no longer completely guarantee gas exchange. The feeling of not getting enough air increases even more for the patient in this scenario because it becomes one Decrease in blood oxygen levels (Hypoxia) is coming. The following diseases are often associated with such breathing disorders:

  • lung infection
  • bronchitis
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • bronchial asthma

Special case: respiratory tumors

Mucosal, supporting tissue and glandular cells of the respiratory tract can sometimes also develop tissue degeneration. To make matters worse, the lungs are particularly at risk when it comes to tumor diseases, since the inhaled air can also cause numerous cell-damaging pollutants to enter the cell tissue. Among other things, the risk of cell degeneration is increased by:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fuels
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Industrial pollutants
  • Traffic fumes
  • Pollutants in the living area

It is tricky about tumor diseases in the area of ​​the lungs that degeneracies remain undetected for a long time and can easily spread unhindered in the cell tissue. For this reason too, breathing difficulties and a long-lasting cough after surviving infections should not be rated as harmless, but should be seen by the doctor in a timely manner.

Difficulty breathing and heart disease

Heart disease can sometimes cause breathing problems. The reason for this is a weak heart in the pump due to a loss of performance due to illness. This results in a backflow of the blood to be pumped into the lungs, which means that it can no longer develop fully and the gas exchange is consequently impeded. Classic signs of this type of breathing impairment are:

  • Shortness of breath when stressed (later also when at rest)
  • dry, unproductive cough
  • cold sweat
  • Chest tightness (possibly associated with pain)

There are many causes of a weak heart. For example, cardiac infections such as Pericarditis or Myocarditis to be responsible for the complaints. In these diseases, pathogens spread to the heart due to pre-inflammation are often identified as the originators.

Congenital congeners can also be used as a trigger for heart-related breathing difficulties Heart valve defect or one Heart failure. In addition to the problems with breathing, there are also clear cardiac arrhythmias. The situation is similar with acquired heart and vascular diseases high blood pressure or the extremely treacherous coronary artery disease out. The diseases not only mean an enormous burden on the lungs, but also increase the risk of a heart attack.

In this context, there is also existing Overweight called. Not only does the excess pounds press on the chest and thus make breathing difficult, obesity also promotes the development of heart diseases that further impair breathing.

Attention: If the blood backlog is left untreated, it can become one Pulmonary edema come. It describes the filling of the alveoli with tissue water from the backlog of blood. Lung vesicles filled with liquid can no longer carry out the gas exchange necessary for breathing. The result is a lack of oxygen, which can become a critical situation for the whole body.

Breathing problems due to muscular and skeletal disorders

As already shown at the beginning, the muscles required for breathing can also be responsible. Furthermore, there are some diseases of the skeleton in the chest area that cannot be excluded as the cause of the impaired breathing. A comparatively harmless variant are included Muscle tension in the area of ​​the cervical and thoracic spine. For example, they occur in the frame

  • excessive physical activity,
  • monotonous sitting posture or
  • as a result of vertebral blockages or herniated discs

and can lead to poor posture and the associated incorrect breathing if the location is poor. However, there are also more serious muscle and skeletal complaints, which must be considered in connection with breathing difficulties:

Paralysis of the diaphragm

Paralysis of the diaphragm is significantly less harmless, since it is usually caused by more serious disease complexes. Causes of a Diaphragmatic paralysis (Diaphragmatic palsy) are cramps, damage or failures of the phrenic nerve, which controls the diaphragm. For example, a previous one is conceivable as a trigger Rigid seizure as it happens among other things with tetanus.

Also tumor diseases, inflammation and neuromuscular diseases like muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis (MS) or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) cannot be excluded as the cause of paralysis of the diaphragm. Even virus diseases like herpes zoster can theoretically cause one.

Important: If the diaphragm completely fails as a respiratory muscle due to paralysis, approximately two thirds of the respiratory volume is no longer adequately moved, since the lungs can no longer expand and fill with air. This sometimes results in serious breathing difficulties that can take on life-threatening proportions.

Skeletal anomalies

Whether congenital or acquired as a result of an accident, changes in the skeletal system, especially in the chest area, can always lead to breathing difficulties if the chest cannot rise or fall sufficiently due to anomalies. Particularly common causes in this connection are deformations of the spine, as caused by congenital ones Scoliosis are caused. Breast injuries due to traffic accidents also provoke breathing problems.

Relationship between psyche and breathing difficulties

A classic example of psychological cause is in the context of breathing difficulties Hyperventilation. Often triggered by external influences, such as receiving bad news, fear of exams or experiencing a traumatic situation immediately, the hyperventilating person temporarily has an increased breathing rate. At the same time, those affected have the feeling that they are not getting enough air.

This feeling is caused by a shift in the concentration of blood gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) as a result of increased and too deep breathing. As a result, too much oxygen is absorbed, but at the same time too much carbon dioxide is exhaled. The breathing in a bag often shown in the film can actually help here. As a result, the person affected resumes his own carbon dioxide and a balance of the blood gases can be restored.

Important: Hyperventilation can quickly come to a head in an emergency because the body tries to restore the imbalances through various regulatory mechanisms. There can be a shift in the pH value in the blood, which can lead to a coma without medical attention.

Everyday stress, anxiety disorders and panic attacks

Acute stress not only favors the development of heart diseases. Independent breathing difficulties are also conceivable as an accompanying complaint of everyday stress or mental stress. Because time pressure, suppressed feelings, unprocessed traumas and loss experiences affect the world of thoughts and feelings, they can also express themselves in physical signals, which include exhaustion, increased irritability and forgetfulness, as well as breathing difficulties. The symptom often occurs when it is actually about experiencing, evaluating and processing experiences.

People with this type of health complaint can often be turned upside down by a doctor and are often disappointed when they are unable to find a physical cause and instead find one Stress, fear- or Panic disorder supposed. These health problems are still not classified as real diseases in society. However, our body and soul are a firmly connected unit and mental or psychological health damage always affects physical health. One should therefore consider possible psychosomatic factors as well as tangible, physical previous illnesses in the case of breathing problems.

Accompanying symptoms of respiratory problems

The accompanying complaints, which can occur in the context of impaired breathing, are heavily dependent on the underlying disease. Respiratory diseases, for example, often become noticeable through breathing noises and cold symptoms such as rough throat, cough, hoarseness and runny nose.

Cardiac diseases, on the other hand, are mostly noticeable due to cardiac arrhythmias, fluctuations in blood pressure, exhaustion and reduced performance. In addition to fatigue, stress is shown above all by mood swings and cognitive disorders.

Diagnosis of breathing problems

A first suspicion usually arises when breathing difficulties are diagnosed as soon as the lungs are listened to by a doctor. Breathing noises, sudden coughing attacks or a lack of strength when inhaling and exhaling provide the first clues. Afterwards, special lung function tests can give more precise details. If an inflammation or infection is the obvious cause, smears and blood tests also help to identify any pathogens and inflammatory secretions.

Diagnostic imaging methods such as CT, MRI or X-ray can also be of great help when examining respiratory problems. This applies in particular to the determination of tumor and heart diseases, which can usually be identified by noticeable tissue changes.

Therapy for breathing difficulties

The treatment of respiratory complaints is based on the underlying cause. In this regard, medicinal and medicinal plant therapy measures as well as home remedies and operative steps are available:


In the case of bacterial infections of the respiratory tract, antibiotic therapy is often essential to prevent the pathogens from being carried over. Preparations such as penicillin, clarithromycin or amoxicillin help to successfully destroy microbial pathogens and prevent the infection from descending into the lower respiratory tract.

Asthma patients and patients with COPD are often treated in long-term therapy with airway expanding medication. This is usually done through the regular use of inhalation sprays. These sprays contain active ingredients that expand the airways (bronchodilators) and inhibit inflammation (corticoids).

For patients with heart diseases as the cause of the breathing difficulties, another medicinal treatment regimen is possible, which is often used in a combination of several preparations. Cardiac glycosides such as digitalis or beta blockers such as metoprolol to increase heart strength are conceivable. In contrast, diuretics (e.g. Lasix) are often used to reduce blood volume. Antihypertensives such as ramipril are also available to lower blood pressure.

Medicinal therapy

In the field of medicinal herbs in particular, there are numerous helpers for the treatment of respiratory complaints. Depending on their respective ingredients, these achieve very different healing effects. Herbs such as peppermint, lemon balm and sage are known for their anti-inflammatory and disinfectant effects. Thyme is a good expectorant. Eucalyptus and Echinacea are also known for their antitussive, expectorant and airway-relieving properties.

The medicinal plants can either be prepared for a healing tea, steam bath or medicinal bath or purchased directly as lozenges, drops or tablet additives in the pharmacy.

A good tip is also the so-called phyto-aromatherapy for respiratory complaints. Special herbs and resins are heated in a smoker or warmer so that the healing agents are released into the air and then inhaled into the airways. The well-known myrrh is particularly suitable for this. The resin, which is known to many from ritual incense, also has a very good effect against respiratory diseases and breathing problems. Other herbs recommended for treatment are:

  • arnica
  • Coltsfoot
  • Motherwort
  • Ribwort plantain
  • Licorice root
  • Knotweed
  • Hawthorn

Important: Especially chronic sick people and allergy sufferers should be careful when using medicinal herbs, especially as an additive in inhalations or steam baths. Often they do not tolerate every medicinal herb and only react with an intensification of the symptoms.

Surgical treatment

Difficulty breathing caused by skeletal anomalies can often only be remedied by correcting the malposition. This is necessary, for example, in the course of scoliosis. However, it should be mentioned that a detailed benefit-risk analysis should be carried out in advance with the doctor, since this is a major back surgery with high potential for complications.

Similar risk assessments are also important if surgical treatment focuses on a nerve or tumor disorder. In both cases, the individual health status of the patient and the benefits of an operation must be assessed in advance in order to be able to say whether a surgical intervention is worthwhile or not.

Physical therapy

Physiotherapeutic measures are not only important in rehabilitative physiotherapy after an operation. Muscle-related breathing difficulties can also be treated very easily by a physiotherapist or osteopath with little effort. Appropriate courses can be used to correct posture errors, relieve tension and strengthen weakened muscles.

It is important, however, that appropriate measures are taken in aftercare to prevent the blockages from recurring. This includes, among other things, maintaining a healthy posture while sitting, and building good back muscles.

Home remedies for breathing difficulties

When it comes to inhalations, chronically ill people in particular are often prescribed a special electric steam inhaler by their doctor. You can easily prepare a suitable steam bath yourself with the herbs mentioned above at home. Performing it for about 10 minutes (depending on your well-being) 3-4 times a day then helps to loosen the stuck mucus and to transport it out with coughing.

Heart patients, on the other hand, have a harder time. In the first place, your illness can only be treated with medication and there is also no one short-term measure that can be carried out for relief or healing. However, the person affected can still take a number of measures, which ultimately aim at a long-term change in lifestyle.

Appropriate lifestyle changes are also recommended for stress patients and include, above all, a healthy diet. This should be rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which includes a generous consumption of fruits, vegetables and cereals. In the case of heart diseases in particular, such a diet may also aim to reduce weight, in order to relieve the chest and thus the respiratory tract and respiratory muscles. Combined with regular exercise, the immune system can also be wonderfully strengthened and possible respiratory infections and heart infections prevented.

A stress reduction is also used for the successful treatment of respiratory complaints with cardiac and stress. Daily life should be planned stress-free if possible and ideally combined with regular relaxation phases. Course participation in the areas of yoga, Reiki or autogenic training can be very useful here.

If there is pollution as a cause of breathing difficulties, it is also important in everyday life to provide adequate protection for the respiratory tract. People who work in a smoky or polluted environment must wear a face mask under all circumstances. Cigarette smoke should also be avoided.

Treatment for psychological causes

If there are unprocessed trauma as the reason for the breathing problems, it is advisable to consider talk therapy. Anxiety and panic disorder can also be managed well today with conversation and behavioral therapies. Hypnotherapy, in which phobic behaviors are neutralized through subconscious conditioning, has become particularly popular in this regard. In addition, however, there should always be a targeted confrontation with everyday situations that trigger fear or panic, if only because the real test only shows whether phobias persist or slowly disappear.

Tip: Support groups for therapeutic treatment are also highly recommended. Here, like-minded patients can share their experiences and help each other to deal with their problems.

Breathing disorders: Flu, bronchitis, sore throat, tonsillitis, pneumonia, allergies, COPD, asthma, obstruction, muscle tension, paralysis of the diaphragm, heart failure, heart valve defects, heart muscle weakness, coronary heart disease, stress. (ma)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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