Many different situations can make you feel like you can’t get enough air into your lungs, even things like low-level anxiety or speaking in front of a crowd. Almost everyone has had that feeling at one point or another in their lives, and usually it’s nothing to be concerned about.

But, if you’re relaxing and suddenly feel short of breath, or if it happens several times without apparent cause over a few days, our experts at Maryland Cardiology Associates in Greenbelt, Maryland, encourage you to seek medical care and be evaluated. Some serious underlying conditions can cause shortness of breath.

In this post, we discuss five common causes of shortness of breath, some more serious than others. If you’re feeling short of breath more often than you used to, schedule an appointment. Even if you’re simply deconditioned and need to get a little more exercise, it’s better to know than not — and if you have a serious condition, getting treatment may save your life.

1. Respiratory viruses

Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, although it is less deadly now than it used to be, and other varieties of respiratory viruses are still circulating as well. Usually, if a virus is the cause of your shortness of breath, you’ll have other symptoms as well like a fever, cough, body aches, and so on. If you suspect you have a virus, you should see your primary care doctor for testing and treatment. Antiviral therapy may be available to significantly shorten the duration and lessen the severity of your illness.

2. Asthma

If you find yourself wheezing and unable to breathe deeply, you may have asthma. Some people describe the feeling of an asthma attack as drowning. Asthma usually has trigger substances or situations that cause your airways to tighten so that air doesn’t pass through easily. Some people develop allergies that are asthma triggers, and others may find that even mild illness, physical exertion, or even extreme weather can trigger asthma. It’s important to seek treatment and have a rescue inhaler on hand if you have asthma.

3. Obesity or deconditioning

Being out of shape can cause shortness of breath. If you find yourself struggling to breathe after walking to the mailbox, it could be as simple as needing to build up your endurance.


Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is a breathing disorder that causes too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen in your blood. People who have obesity hypoventilation syndrome often also have sleep apnea. Researchers don’t know why some people who are obese develop this problem but others don’t. One theory is that excess fat on your neck and chest can make breathing more difficult, and another is that hormones can affect how you breathe.

4. Heart disease

A number of cardiovascular conditions are associated with chronic shortness of breath. Similarly, quite a few different issues can be described using the term heart disease. In the United States, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which affects how your blood flows through your heart.


Inadequate blood flow to your heart can cause a heart attack. If your shortness of breath is accompanied by chest or upper back pain, indigestion, nausea or vomiting, or extreme fatigue, seek emergency care immediately.

5. Arrhythmia

When you have an irregular heartbeat, you have an arrhythmia. Arrhythmia isn’t always an emergency, but it can be. Atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation are all examples of arrhythmias that can be serious and also accompanied by shortness of breath in many cases.

Get evaluated

In the end, unexplainable chronic shortness of breath could be a sign of a serious health issue. If you’re dealing with feeling like you can’t breathe deeply, schedule an appointment at Maryland Cardiology Associates today. Call our office or book a visit online.

Have Questions?
We’ll Reply Quickly.

  • Please use this form for general information purposes only. DO NOT send personal health information through this form. Specific patient care must be addressed during your appointment.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Call Us Text Us
Skip to content