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What causes shortness of breath when talking?

Updated February 21, 2019

Physical activities like walking or climbing stairs can cause a person to experience shortness of breath. Other people find it difficult to catch their breath when eating, talking or resting. The sense of feeling short of breath may be mild, moderate or severe. In certain cases, a person may even feel as if she is going to black out. Breathing may be slow, rapid or tight with shortness of breath coming on either suddenly or gradually. Talking can make breathing worse as the person feels as if she cannot get enough air. Breathing becomes faster or slower than normal, and can be painful. Shortness of breath may be accompanied by other symptoms such as feeling dizzy or lightheaded, especially when talking. Some individuals also report having a dry cough or feeling nauseous if they suddenly find that they cannot catch their breath while talking.

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People who talk for long periods of time while teaching, reading aloud, working on the telephone, lecturing or addressing the public can sometimes find themselves becoming short of breath. Some individuals experience similar symptoms when they sing. This is especially true for people who breathe too fast through the mouth. Anxiety may be a contributing factor for other people, particularly for those who speak before large groups. While nervousness may not actually cause shortness of breath, it can make people talk faster. As a result, an individual may find himself breathing faster and deeper. If this is the case, making a conscious effort to slow down breathing and exhale fully can help. Even though anxiety may not be the direct cause of shortness of breath, worrying about what is causing the feeling can make breathing more laboured when talking.


Allergic reactions can be responsible for causing shortness of breath when talking. As the bronchial tubes narrow, a person is unable to get enough air into the lungs. Adults not diagnosed with asthma until later in life often think they are simply out of shape. But if there is a family history of asthma and/or allergies, it is a good idea to get checked even as an adult. Frequently, parents of asthmatic children do not consider that they might have asthma themselves. Sounding out of breath to others when talking on the telephone could be a warning sign.

Heart Disease

A study published in a November 2005 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine identified shortness of breath as a possible symptom of heart disease even when a person has no chest pain. Researchers point out that even though many people tend not to think of shortness of breath as an indicator that something may be seriously wrong, it sometimes is the only symptom present in people who have other risk factors for coronary artery disease. When individuals do worry that shortness of breath may be the sign of a health problem, they tend to associate the symptom with lung disease rather than heart disease.


Hyperventilation, a condition characterised by abnormally rapid and shallow breaths, often occurs along with an anxiety or panic attack. The oxygen level in the blood rises, causing other symptoms such as chest pain and dizziness. It is not uncommon for individuals to have a fear of speaking in public. When people are nervous they tend to breathe with the chest rather than by pulling in the abdomen and exhaling through the nose. Acid reflux can also cause shortness of breath. In this case, pressure in the chest or digestive juices backing up into the throat can cause shortness of breath severe enough to make a person hyperventilate.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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