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Five Common Triggers for Shortness of Breath.

Five Common Triggers for Shortness of Breath

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.

Here are five common things that may trigger shortness of breath.

  1. Overeating 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.
  2. Stress 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Allergies 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.
  5. 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.

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.

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.

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.


  • Peter Queripel.
    3 years ago

    Hi everyone


    I worked at an airport for 31 years where aircraft fuel and weather used to be very bad triggers. On the days we had fog it used to be miserable when it lasted all day. Sometimes I would have to go Home. As I was involved with airport security I worked mainly outside. Fumes used by aircraft and other vehicles are other problems I used to have deal with. In the summer the heat used to set me off and I would stay in the shade as much as possible. I’ve always been a very stressful person and I think this is my worst trigger. It keeps me awake at night and l end up with only a few hours sleep. I have to walk out of the room if my wife is using nail varnish and nail remover. Not breathing correctly is another bad trigger. When getting up to go to bed the thought of climbing the stairs can trigger a panic attack,and by the time I’m at the top I’m gasping and it feels as if my heart is going to give under the strain.


  • Casey Hribar moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Peter!

    We appreciate you sharing your triggers with us, and want you to know we are here for you! We’re grateful to have you in our community, and to have you share your story with us. I can only imagine how hard it must have been working around aircraft fuel and fumes all day with COPD, as well as working outside in changing weather conditions. You are so not alone in your need to stay out of the sun in the summer. Heat is a common trigger for many with COPD! I found these articles that you may connect with on that front, and

    Stress is another common trigger you are not alone in! I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much to read, but I found these as well that you may be interested in to help with stress, and how fellow community members deal with stress! They can be found here and here

    One final comment of yours I wanted to address, was your feelings of anxiety and panic attacks, even when just thinking about upcoming hurdles. This is also something you are far from being alone in! We have a series of articles about COPD and anxiety, starting with the first part, that deals specifically with panic attacks!

    Like I said, I don’t want to overwhelm you too much with information, but I am so glad you found our community. We are here for you, whether it be for information, friendship, support, or just as an ear to listen when things get rough.

    Sending you warm wishes,

    Casey, Team

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