Shortness of breath (or difficulty breathing) can be caused by numerous medical problems from asthma or pneumonia to even a blood clot in the lungs. Shortness of breath can be also a warning sign of a heart attack. Other symptoms can help determine the cause of your shortness of breath.
With pneumonia, sick contacts, fever, and coughing up mucous can just be a few questions your doctor may ask you. Recent travel or surgery, history of cancer, and genetic clotting disorders in the family can put you at higher risk of developing blood clots that can travel to the lung. Chest pain with shortness of breath or difficulty breathing with walking/running may also be signs of a heart attack. While there are numerous other reasons for shortness of breath including allergic reactions, a dropped lung (or pneumothorax) from chest injury, or even COPD/emphysema, we do recommend coming to the emergency room for evaluation.
It is sometimes difficult to tell if your symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, and fever are pneumonia or bronchitis. Pneumonia by definition is an infection in the lungs. In pneumonia, the cough is typically more of a wet cough that can bring up mucous. Pneumonia typically has a higher fever than bronchitis as well. “Walking pneumonia” is normally used to describe a patient that has more of a mild case of pneumonia and has symptoms but can still function throughout the day. Typically xrays can help diagnosis pneumonia versus bronchitis.
Bronchitis by definition is inflammation of the airways that go to the lungs. Typically bronchitis is more viral than bacterial. Bronchitis on the other hand typically has more of a dry cough and lower fevers. Some viral bronchitis can cause an asthma exacerbation and sometimes require steroids and multiple breathing treatments to overcome the exacerbation. Typically antibiotics are reserved for cases of bronchitis that have lasted several weeks or for those with high risk factors (patients on chemotherapy for example). Supportive care though with breathing treatments, a cough suppressant, and even steroids may be prescribed to you for your symptoms.