Shortness of Breath

Image of Elderly Man CoughingChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) happens when the airways in the lungs are blocked (obstructed) making it hard to breathe. You may have trouble with daily activities because of shortness of breath. Over time the shortness of breath usually worsens making it more and more difficult to take care of yourself and take part in activities. Two common types of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis occurs when the cells in the airways make more mucus than normal. The mucus builds up, narrowing the airways which means less air travels into and out of the lungs. The lining of the airways may also become inflamed (swollen) and causes the airways to narrow even more.


Emphysema causes the small airways to become damaged and lose their stretchiness. The airways collapse when you exhale, causing air to get trapped in the air sacs. This means that less oxygen enters the blood vessels and less oxygen is delivered to all of the cells of your body, making it hard to breathe.


Your healthcare provider will work with you to prescribe the best treatments for your COPD. Recommendations may include the following:

  • Medicines – Some medicines help relieve symptoms when you have them. Others are taken daily to control inflammation in the lungs. Always take your medicines as prescribed. Learn the names of your medicines, as well as how and when to use them.
  • Oxygen therapy – Oxygen may be prescribed if tests show that your blood contains too little oxygen.
  • Smoking – If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the main cause of COPD. Quitting will help you be able to better manage your COPD. Ask your healthcare provider about ways to help you quit smoking.
  • Avoiding infections – Infections, like a cold or the flu, can cause your symptoms to worsen. Try to stay away from people who are sick. Wash your hands often. And, ask your healthcare provider about vaccines for the flu and pneumonia.
Your generosity can make a difference.