Shortness of breath

Shortness of breath might not be anything to worry about. But sometimes it can be serious and you'll need to get medical help.

Shortness of breath can be a sign of COVID-19

Compare the symptoms of COVID-19, flu and cold

Immediate action required: Call 112 or 999 if:

  • your chest feels tight or heavy
  • you have pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck and jaw
  • you feel or are being sick

You could be having a heart attack or a problem with your lungs or airway.

Non-urgent advice: Phone a GP if

you have shortness of breath and:

  • it's lasted for longer than a month
  • it gets worse when you have been active
  • it gets worse when you lie down
  • you have been coughing for 3 weeks or more
  • you have swollen ankles

Shortness of breath with a high temperature can be a symptom of COVID-19. If you have these symptoms, you should phone your GP.

It's important to get medical advice to make sure it's nothing serious. You're not wasting anyone's time by getting it checked out.

Causes of shortness of breath

Shortness of breath has lots of different causes.

Common causes include a cold or chest infection, asthma, being overweight, and smoking. It can also be a sign of a panic attack.

But sometimes it could be a sign of something more serious, such as a lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer.

Any treatment you may need depends on what's causing your symptoms.

Don't try to self-diagnose the cause of your shortness of breath – always contact a GP.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 30 March 2020
Next review due: 30 March 2023