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What’s Causing My Nighttime Shortness of Breath?

There’s nothing worse than being jolted awake when you’re in the midst of a deep slumber, especially when it’s because you can’t breathe. If you find that you’re gasping for breath in the middle of the night, something is obviously wrong. There are several medical conditions that can cause shortness of breath, such as sleep apnea or anxiety attacks; however, there’s something else that could be causing the problem. What is it? Believe it or not, the environment you’re sleeping in.

That’s right, there are several environmental conditions that can spark shortness of breath, particularly if you suffer from chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies, or COPD. If pollutants are circulating through your bedroom, those airborne pollutants can aggravate your existing health conditions, which can trigger shortness of breath while you’re sleeping. If you’re having difficulty breathing while you’re lying down, you should first seek the help of a medical professional, as there’s a chance that there could be an underlying health problem that is responsible for the symptoms you are experiencing. If breathing problems come on suddenly, are severe, and seriously interfere with your breathing, you should consider going directly to the emergency department of the nearest hospital or dialing 911. With that said, however, if, after speaking with your doctor, it is determined that the shortness of breath that you are experiencing at night isn’t related to a health condition, you should seriously consider investigating the air quality of your home, and in particular, your bedroom, or wherever you sleep.

If you suspect that the nighttime breathing issues that you are experiencing are related to airborne irritants in your home, read on to find out what could be contributing to the problem and for possible solutions that could remedy the situation and help you get a more restful night of sleep.

What Factors Can Contribute to Shortness of Breath?

Dyspnea is the official medical term for that has been given to the sensation of or difficulty with breathing. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to dyspnea. Sometimes, it is associated with health conditions, such as heart disease, allergies, or sleep apnea. Other times, dyspnea may not be associated with health conditions, but could rather be sparked by environmental conditions. Seeking the advice of a medical professional is always recommended if you are experiencing shortness of breath. Here’s a look at some more information (which should not be considered medical advice, but rather general information, nor should it be considered an exhaustive list) that could linked to shortness of breath at night, as per the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM).

  • Heart problems. Heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, heart defects, anddisturbances with heart rhythms, can limit your heart’s ability to pump enough blood to supply your body with oxygen, including your lungs.
  • Sleep apnea. This is a condition that occurs during sleep and occurs as a result of a narrowing of the airways, which leads to low oxygen levels. This condition can often lead to gasping for air in the middle of the night.
  • Blood clotting. These are gel-like deposits of blood that form within the arteries or veins, and occurs when the blood somehow changes from liquid to partially solid in nature. While clotting is a normal and necessary function of the blood, as it helps to prevent excessive bleeding when an injury occurs; however, blood clots can form within the body and may not dissolve on their own, and when that happens, the results could be extremely dangerous to your health. Blood clots that form when they should not have developed in the first placed are known as “thrombus”, and it may stay in one spot (known as a “thrombosis”), or it can move throughout the body (known as “thromboembolism”). Clots can develop in or travel to the lungs, and can result in shortness of breath.
  • Pneumonia. An infection that causes the air sacs within one or both lungs to become inflamed, pneumonia can result in coughing, phlegm or pus buildup, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing, which can worsen when you’re lying down. There are several organisms that can contribute to the development of pneumonia, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
  • Airway obstructions. We’ve already discussed one factor that can contribute to airway obstruction, which is sleep apnea; however, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of airway obstructions while you are sleeping. For example, the air passages in your mouth, nose, and throat can become blocked, something can get stuck in your throat, or your vocal cords can swell.
  • Other factors that contribute to shortness of breath. There are several other factors that can contribute to shortness of breath, too; allergies, excessive levels of dust in the environment, panic or anxiety attacks, and other types of emotional distress, for example.

What Can Cause Nighttime Shortness of Breath?

If you find that you are waking up in the middle of the night as a result of shortness of breath, it goes without saying but it is worth nothing that this is absolutely not normal. One possible reason for nighttime shortness of breath could be related to paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND), a condition that causes an individual to awaken suddenly in the middle of the night due to a feeling of shortness of breath. In addition to feeling short of breath, some people may also cough or wheeze. PND could be the result of congestive heart failure or COPD.

Orthopnea, which is a condition that is marked by general difficulty with breathing while lying flat on the back, is another reason why you might be experiencing shortness of breath in the middle of the night. If you suffer from this condition, in order to comfortably breathe, you can try elevating your head with pillows to try to improve your breathing. Orthopnea is often the result of heart or lung conditions.

Factors that can lead to difficulty breathing while lying down

Examples of some of the different types of conditions and issues that can result in shortness of breath while you are lying on your back can include the following:

  • Heart failure
  • COPD
  • Cor pulmonale (failure of the right side of the heart)
  • Panic disorder
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea

The above-mentioned reasons are all factors that could explain why you might be experiencing difficulty breathing while you’re lying down. They could also be the reason why you are suddenly awakened in the middle of the night because you are feeling shortness of breath. As discussed above, this is referred to as PND, and it usually occurs about an hour or two after falling asleep, but it usually subsides when you sit up or stand up in an upright position.

Asthma and Nighttime Shortness of Breath

Asthma is another condition that can contribute to nighttime breathlessness, and it is so common that it deserves its own section. Recurring episodes of sudden onset of shortness of breath in the middle of the night is often one of the first signs of asthma. Other signs can include wheezing and/or coughing. Several scientific studies have found that individuals who experience frequent episodes of nighttime asthma attacks are more likely to have severe cases of asthma. It could also indicate that the condition hasn’t been controlled or that it is poorly controlled.

What is asthma? It is a disease that results in narrowing of the airways, as the air passages of the lungs swell. This, in turn, can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and coughing. When an asthma attack strikes, the lining of the airways swell up and the muscles that surround them tighten. This reduces the amount of air that can pass through the airway; hence the shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing.

If your airways are particularly sensitive, asthma symptoms can be triggered when you breathe in airborne allergens. At night, when you’re sleeping, you could be exposed to certain types of indoor air pollutants in your bedroom, which could trigger the symptoms that are associated with asthma, including shortness of breath. Some of the most common allergens that can trigger an asthma attack include:

  • Dust mutes
  • Pet dander or hair
  • Mold spores
  • Pollen
  • Tobacco smoke

The above are the most common airborne allergies that you could be breathing in while you are sleeping. If you suffer from asthma, inhaling these allergens could be responsible for causing the shortness of breath that you’re experiencing in the middle of the night.

Is Outdoor Air Pollution Linked to Shortness of Breath?

Several research studies have found that exposure to airborne pollutants, such as fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, could be responsible for the shortness of breath and wheezing that many experience. Furthermore, it has been confirmed that those who suffer with asthma, as well as older adults, are more prone to having their health negatively impacted when they are exposed to airborne pollutants. As such, if you live in a location where air pollution levels may be particularly high and you are experiencing shortness of breath in the middle of the night, you may want to consider monitoring the quality of your indoor air.

The link between exposure to airborne pollution worsening symptoms of asthma and difficulty breathing has long been known. As per the US Environmental Protection Agency, airborne pollutants can impact breathing, particularly for individuals who suffer from respiratory health conditions, and can increase incidents of coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and burning sensations in the lungs. Ozone and fine particulate matter are the two most prominent airborne pollutants that can cause such adverse health effects. When the levels of both contaminants are high, individuals who suffer from asthma are more apt to experience difficulty breathing, particularly children and older adults.

What Type of Measures Can Be Taken to Minimize the Risk of Shortness of Breath While Sleeping?

As stated, if you experience shortness of breath and difficulty breathing while you are sleeping, speak to your health care provider. There is a chance that you may have developed a health issue that could be contributing to your breathing issues – especially if you suffer from asthma or allergies. Your doctor will provide you with recommendations, which may include making efforts to reduce environmental airborne allergens. Mold and mildew spores, dust mites, and pet dander are some of the most common contaminants that could be circulating through your sleeping space that may be affecting your nighttime breathing.

One of the most effective ways to minimize allergens that may be circulating in your bedroom is by taking a proactive approach and preventing the accumulation of environmental airborne pollutants as much as you can. For example, to reduce the amount of dust mites in your bedroom, you can try switching to bedding that is made of allergen-friendly materials, such as your pillows, mattress, and linens. If you allow a pet to sleep in your bedroom and you’re allergic to dander, you might want to consider having them sleep elsewhere; or, at the very least, instead of allowing them to sleep in your bed, make a cozy bed on the floor, clean their bedding regularly, and vacuum as often as possible. Even if a pet doesn’t sleep in your bedroom, cleaning your bedroom on a regular basis is a must if you want to reduce levels of airborne pollutants in the space. This includes dusting, vacuuming, cleaning your linens, and ventilating the room as frequently as possible.

How Can An Air Purifier Help to Reduce Nighttime Shortness of Breath?

If you suffer from nighttime shortness of breath, whether you’ve been diagnosed with asthma or allergies or not, using an air purifier in your bedroom may help to alleviate the problem. Research studies have found that placing an air purifier near the location where you sleep may be beneficial.

While the majority of air purifiers are designed to trap airborne allergens and pollutants, Photo Electrochemical Oxidation, the latest air purification technology, can actually break down and destroy airborne pollutants and allergens. It’s important to note that if you do decide to use an air purifier in your bedroom, it’s important to position it so that it’s within close proximity to your bed or whatever surface you sleep on. In order for the device to be as effective as possible, it needs to be placed in your “sleep breathing zone”. Furthermore, you are going to want to properly care for your air purifier. This includes cleaning it on a regular basis, as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Schedule Professional Mold Inspections

Mold spores are one of the most prominent airborne allergens, and they are directly responsible for aggravating allergies and asthma. As such, indoor mold growth may be responsible for the shortness of breath that you’re experiencing at night. Therefore, identifying and eradicating mold growth is essential if you want to alleviate your nighttime breathing difficulties.

Sometimes, the presence of indoor mold growth is obvious; signs include actually seeing the fungi, as well as stale, musty odors. However, in many cases, indoor mold growth goes unnoticed. It can grow within walls, underneath carpeting, in heating and cooling ducts, and in other locations where you would never suspect it. With that said, mold inspections performed by licensed and trained professionals are highly recommended. An experienced technician will take surface and air samples of your bedroom and other locations throughout your home to determine whether or not mold growth is present, and if so, they will recommend effective remedies to eradicate the mold, and thus, improve your nighttime breathing.

For the most reputable mold assessments, get in touch with the pros at Mold Inspection and Testing. Our team of experts will perform the most comprehensive examination of your home and if mold is present, will offer insight and recommendations that you can use to eliminate the problem. With convenient locations throughout the United States, MI&T can service homeowners throughout the country with high-quality, reliable, and affordable services.