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Causes for Shallow Breathing

author image Lisabetta DiVita
Lisabetta Divita is a physician whose love for writing flourished while she was exposed to all facets of the medical field during her training. Her writings are currently featured in prominent medical magazines and various online publications. She holds a doctorate in medicine, a master's in biomedicine, and a Bachelor of Science in biology from Boston College.
Causes for Shallow Breathing
Causes for Shallow Breathing Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Shallow breathing can be an alarming and potentially life-threatening symptom if left untreated. People who develop shallow breathing can generally develop wheezing and blue skin (cyanosis). Sometimes, shallow breathing can be due to fluid accumulation within the lungs. In some cases, it can be due to an infection or trauma. Fortunately, the causes of shallow breathing often can be managed.


Asthma refers to a medical problem in which the lungs become inflamed. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that approximately 20 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, with 9 million of those people being children.

Some asthma symptoms include shallow breathing, wheezing, dry cough and chest tightness. Asthma can also lead to severe anxiety, sweating, confusion, drowsiness and a blue skin color to the lips and face.

Having a family history, being allergic to certain environmental substances, and suffering from an infection can increase the chances of developing asthma. Specifically, risk factors for asthma include obesity, having upper respiratory infections as an infant and suffering from heartburn.

Treatment for asthma involves taking such medications as albuterol, terbutaline, pirbuterol, prednisone and budesonide. Other medications include monteleukast and zafirkulast. Sometimes, herbs, acupuncture and yoga can be used as alternative methods in managing asthma symptoms.

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Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema, also known as lung congestion, refers to a serious medical condition in which fluid accumulates in the lung's air sacs.

The University of Maryland Medical Center states that specific symptoms of pulmonary edema include shallow breathing, anxiety, coughing, excessive sweating and restlessness. Pulmonary edema also can lead to wheezing, pale skin, coughing up blood, nasal flaring and trouble speaking full sentences.

Heart failure typically leads to pulmonary edema. Sometimes, a poisonous gas, an infection or trauma can also lead to pulmonary edema.

Treatment for pulmonary edema involves administering oxygen through a face mask or prongs. Sometimes, diuretic medications (water pills) such as furosemide can be given to manage pulmonary edema.

Acute Respiratory Distress Disease

MedlinePlus indicates that acute respiratory distress disease is a type of lung condition in which not enough oxygen can reach the blood. Specific symptoms of acute respiratory distress syndrome include shallow breathing, low blood pressure and organ failure.

This condition is typically the result of inhaling chemicals, pneumonia, trauma, breathing in vomit (aspiration) and suffering from septic shock.

Treatment for acute respiratory syndrome involves hospitalization. There, medications and breathing machines can help manage the condition.

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