Shortness of breath

Five Common Triggers for Shortness of Breath

Last updated: March 2023

There are many different reasons that you may become short of breath, and if you are just beginning to learn about COPD, you may be wondering what could be your triggers. With each person being different, what may trigger a severe episode of shortness of breath in you, may not affect someone else.

What may cause breathlessness


can decrease the amount of available space for the lungs to expand. This makes taking a deep breath all the more difficult. Also, your body is working hard to digest the excess food. It is best to eat a small amount more often than to eat large meals once or twice a day.


affects the body as much as it affects your emotions. How your body reacts may be different from someone else, but make no mistake, the effects of stress on your body will show up. It may make you more short of breath, or it may lower the ability of your immune system to fight off a cold. Stress is a common thread for those dealing with COPD, but finding a way to manage it is very important.

Strong smells

can cause shortness of breath. Cleaning products, perfumes and some food smells can seem to take your breath away. Communicate with friends and family members that may not understand how these smells affect your breathing, and avoid using products with strong scents.


that seemed minor before COPD can become a source of a flare up. Knowing what you are allergic to is the first step. If you are allergic to cats, the best thing that you can do for your breathing is to stay away from them. If being outside in the Spring causes your allergies to flare up, creating a "perfect storm" for your COPD to become exacerbated, you may need to stay inside during that time.

Air quality

contributes to everyone's ability to breathe. In bad air quality days, you may have heard that it is best for those with breathing problems to stay inside as much as possible. It may seem beautiful outside, but after spending time out, you may find yourself much more short of breath than you should be.

Know your triggers

Knowing what your triggers are will be a great defense in keeping episodes of severe shortness of breath away. Some of your triggers may be so abrupt and severe that there will be an immediate confirmation that you will need to make adjustments. Unfortunately, for some triggers, it takes some time along with trial and error to figure it out. Be patient with yourself. Those triggers for shortness of breath may not look like blinking neon signs. Give yourself permission to live as you learn what you can and cannot do. Then adjust accordingly, but don't give up before you know.

Keep track of what irritates your COPD

A good way to narrow down your triggers is to keep a daily journal with basic information about how you are feeling, what and how much you ate, your stress level, and your activities during the day. List any episodes of shortness of breath, and over a little time, with the help of your pulmonary physician, you should be able to see some patterns. This will give you a little bit of control back, just in knowing what to avoid.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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