What Is Shallow Breathing?

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  • Written By: Soo Owens
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2019
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Shallow breathing refers to the conscious or subconscious tendency to take abnormally short and weak breaths. This can be caused by numerous factors both in and beyond the control of the individual experiencing it. The repeated tendency to breathe shallowly can lead to physical and mental problems such as hyperventilation and disorientation.

Breathing is both a passive and active activity. Individuals who do not practice proper breathing are more likely to experience unwanted side effects. Short or shallow breathing does not supply the body with as much oxygen as long deep breathing and can lead to a mild state of hyperventilation. It can cause increased levels of carbon dioxide and decreased levels of oxygen in the bloodstream.

Failing to resolve improper breathing can lead to other adverse effects. Individuals may experience high blood pressure, muscle tension, and fast or irregular heart beats. Other issues include disorientation, dizziness, and feelings of restlessness, or the jitters. People with panic disorders and anxiety problems are also likely to suffer from shallow breathing and experience corresponding symptoms and side effects.


It is also possible to develop shallow breathing as the result of a physical illness. Any sort of blockage or barrier in the throat, mouth, or nose is likely to cause shallowness of breath. Heart disease can also result in shallow breathing as the weakened heart is unable to continue pumping the same amount of blood throughout the body. When the vital organs of the human body do not receive enough oxygen, shallow breathing can occur.

Diseases that affect the lungs are also likely causes of shallow breathing. A pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the arteries of the lungs, can lead to shallowness of breath along with bronchiolitis, asthma, pneumonia, and pulmonary hypertension. Environmental conditions such as high altitude can also cause abnormal respiration as the body adjusts to the lower levels of oxygen, and health issues like allergies and obesity are also associated with shortness of breath.

If an individual is out of shape or leads a sedentary lifestyle, shallowness of breath and rapid breathing are likely to occur, especially during physical exertion. This is caused by the increased pressure and strain put on the individual's lungs and muscles, which are not accustomed to increased levels of activity or stress. In most cases repeated exercise will reduce or even eliminate any difficulty in breathing.


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