By keeping a journal, I’ve identified 6 causes of shortness of breath
While every PH patient is different, here's what triggers breathlessness for me
Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of pulmonary hypertension (PH). It can have many triggers, and if you’re a patient just starting to learn about PH, you might be wondering what they are.
Each person is different, of course, so something that might trigger shortness of breath in one person might not affect others the same. As a PH patient myself, I’ve experienced this symptom for years, and I’d like to share six of the common triggers I’ve discovered.
Stress doesn’t only mess with us emotionally, but also physically. How our bodies respond varies, but we can be certain that stress will leave its mark. It could leave us gasping for air or weaken our immune system’s ability to defend against illnesses like the common cold. And as a person with PH, I know that a simple cold is far more complicated for us than it is for otherwise healthy individuals. That’s why it’s vital to learn methods to process and reduce our stress.
2. Strong odors
It’s curious, but those of us with PH can be hypersensitive to strong odors. They can steal our breath away! Some common sources include cleaning products, heavy perfumes, and even certain foods.
I’ve found that it’s important to have a heart-to-heart chat with loved ones who may not fully grasp how strong odors can affect our breathing. Meanwhile, we should avoid anything with an overpowering fragrance so we can stay fresh and stay breathing.
3. Large meals
Feasting on big meals can leave little room for your lungs to stretch and take a satisfying breath. The body also exerts extra effort to digest large quantities of food.
I’ve discovered that nibbling on smaller portions throughout the day suits me best. I chow down from a lovely toddler plate and graze throughout the day. Trust me, as a food lover and an avid cook, I find this method challenging. But it’s worth it.
Allergies can cause a full-blown flare-up of symptoms. For me, the first crucial step in dealing with allergies is to identify the triggers. If cats are your trigger, for example, keeping your distance is like a breath of fresh air.
If the great outdoors during the spring or fall seasons causes a perfect storm with your allergies and PH, it might be time to cozy up indoors. I don’t enjoy staying indoors for extended periods, but sometimes we must when we’ve identified problematic seasons. Avoidance might be necessary.
You can also discuss possible allergy medication or other strategies with your doctor.
5. Air quality
Our ability to breathe is dependent upon the air quality around us. On those not-so-great days of poor air quality, the remedy again is to stay indoors. While it might appear beautiful outdoors, poor air quality can make breathing a difficulty, and no fun at all.
Again, staying inside is not my preference. But if it’s between breathing better or not, I’ll make the sacrifice and do it.
Altitude can have a significant impact on PH patients’ ability to breathe properly. If living at a lower altitude is crucial for your well-being, consider moving.
I usually experience altitude sickness at 4,000 feet or more above sea level, which causes me shortness of breath, heart palpitations, headaches, lightheadedness, and nausea. When that happens, I must descend to lower altitudes to increase my oxygen levels.
Learn your triggers
Discovering your triggers is a powerful defense against breathlessness attacks. Some triggers hit like a lightning bolt, leaving no doubt that adjustments are needed. Identifying your other triggers, however, may require time and experimentation. So be patient, my PHriend.
One way to identify and keep track of your triggers is to keep a journal with basic information about how you’re feeling, as well as your diet, food portions, stress levels, and activities throughout the day. This record can help to identify patterns you can discuss with your healthcare team. Knowing what to avoid can provide you with a sense of control.
Have you noticed any other triggers that affect your breathing symptoms? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.