Why Is It Hard for Me to Breathe?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on February 05, 2022
4 min read

Do you get a tightness or heaviness in your chest sometimes? There are a bunch of reasons you might feel this way. You may have a chest cold, or it could be something more serious. Talk to your doctor to find out what's going on. They'll want to know if you have other symptoms that can help pinpoint your condition.

You don't want to fool around if your symptoms could mean a heart attack. Chest pain that makes it difficult to breathe is one of them. Get medical help right away if you also have any of these:

  • Pressure or squeezing in the center of your chest
  • Pain in your arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Sweating, nausea, light-headedness

Learn more about the symptoms of a heart attack.

It's a serious condition that starts when your heart isn't pumping normally. When that happens, blood and fluid can back up in your lungs.

You might get:

  • Short of breath, especially when lying down
  • Tired and weak
  • Coughing spells, especially at night
  • Swollen legs and ankles
  • Weight gain

Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these signs. Read more about heart failure symptoms.

It's a lung infection that you get from a bacteria, virus, or fungus. Sometimes it starts out as the flu. You may feel short of breath or get other symptoms like:

See your doctor if any of those happen to you or you think you might have pneumonia. Get more information about pneumonia symptoms and causes.

You're probably all too familiar with the sneezing, coughing, and stuffy nose that go along with a cold. A cold is a virus that affect the upper airways. But it can make your lungs congested, too. Your airways get inflamed and make extra mucus. You might start coughing some of it up.

Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids, which helps thin the mucus in your lungs. Find out more on symptoms of the common cold.

Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter your body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, or mouth. Flu symptoms often mimic cold symptoms with nasal congestion, cough, aches, and malaise. But a common cold rarely has symptoms of fever above 101 degrees. With flu symptoms, you will probably have a fever initially with the flu virus and you will feel miserable. Body and muscle aches are also more common with the flu. 

The flu can be serious, leading to pneumonia. These nasty germs usually stick to the upper part of your respiratory system. But the trouble starts when they get down into your lungs. Then the air sacs in your lungs get infected and inflamed, and they fill up with fluid. COVID-19 is a viral peumonia.  


It's sometimes called emphysema or chronic bronchitis, and it can make you short of breath. Smoking causes this disease most of the time.

When you have COPD, the airways in your lungs get inflamed and thicken, which means less oxygen comes in and less carbon dioxide goes out. Over time, the shortness of breath gets worse.

Your doctor can give you medication to help you manage the symptoms. If the problems get worse, you may need to use an oxygen tank to help with your breathing trouble.

The best thing you can do for your lungs is to quit smoking. Learn more about the symptoms and causes of COPD.


Most of the time it's caused by smoking. Your symptoms may include:

Get more details about lung cancer symptoms.

If you have asthma, your airways overreact to certain common triggers, including pollen, pet dander, cockroaches, smoke, air pollutants, or chemicals in your workplace. The disease tends to run in families. 

With asthma, you may notice a wheezing sound when you breathe. Sometimes you only have it after you exercise or when you have a cold. Your chest may also feel tight. And you might have a cough at night or get short of breath.

A lot of medicines can help, including inhalers that you breathe in to give you quick relief, and others that you take daily to reduce inflammation in your lungs. Read more about asthma symptoms, causes, and triggers.

Anything you're allergic to can make it harder to breathe, and result in a congested chest, watery eyes and wheezing. Pollen, dust, and pet dander (tiny flecks of skin shed by animals) are some common culprits.

There are lots of ways to get relief. Drugs like antihistamines and decongestants may help. So may regular allergy shots. Find more information about allergy symptoms.