Out of breath? Don’t ignore the signs

A nagging cough or slight wheeze may barely register in the course of our busy days, but it's critically important to pay attention to even mild symptoms. Feeling short of breath from time to time is healthy and normal – but it can be a sign of something more serious. We're encouraging people not to ignore getting out of breath, and helping them decide if it's time to speak to someone about it. Knowing the early warning signs of lung disease can help you receive treatment before the disease becomes serious or even life threatening. If you experience any of the following warning signs, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Early detection could save your life. Warning signs are:

  • Chronic cough: A cough you have had for a month or longer is considered chronic. This is an important early symptom that tells you something is wrong with your respiratory system.

  • Shortness of breath: It's not normal to experience shortness of breath that doesn't go away after exercising, or that you have after little or no exertion. Labored or difficult breathing—the feeling that it is hard to breathe in out—is also a warning sign.

  • Chronic mucus production: Mucus, also called sputum or phlegm, is produced by the airways as a defense against infections or irritants. If your mucus production has lasted a month or longer, this could indicate lung disease.

  • Wheezing: Noisy breathing or wheezing is a sign that something unusual is blocking your lungs' airways or making them too narrow.

  • Coughing up blood: If you are coughing up blood, it may be coming from your lungs or upper respiratory tract. Wherever it's coming from, it signals a health problem.

  • Chronic chest pain: Unexplained chest pain that lasts for a month or more—especially if it gets worse when you breathe in or cough—also is a warning sign.

Tips for preparing for a visit with your doctor:

  1. Make a list of all the medicines you’re using, including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, as well as herbs, supplements and any non-traditional methods you use.

  2. Make a list of all the healthcare providers you see and why you see them.

  3. Make a list of the symptoms you are having and note which ones bother you the most. Write down when they started and what you have done (if anything) to make them better.

Questions about your breathing? Ask an expert.  

Call our National Lung Health Helpline at 1.866.717.2673 or contact our BC Lung Association office in Vancouver toll-free at 1.800.665.LUNG (5864) or email info@bc.lung.ca.

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Page Last Updated: 14/11/2016