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Breathing difficulties - first aid

Epiglottis
Breathing

Definition

Most people take breathing for granted. People with certain illnesses may have breathing problems that they deal with on a regular basis.

This article discusses first aid for someone who is having unexpected breathing problems.

Breathing difficulties can range from:

Alternative Names

Difficulty breathing - first aid; Dyspnea - first aid; Shortness of breath - first aid

Considerations

Breathing difficulty is almost always a medical emergency. An exception is feeling slightly winded from normal activity, such as exercise.

Causes

There are many different causes for breathing problems. Common causes include some health conditions and sudden medical emergencies.

Some health conditions that may cause breathing problems are:

Some medical emergencies that can cause breathing problems are:

Symptoms

A person who is having a hard time breathing difficulty will often look uncomfortable. They may be:

They might have other symptoms, including:

If an allergy is causing the breathing problem, they might have a rash or swelling of the face, tongue, or throat.

If an injury is causing breathing difficulty, they might be bleeding or have a visible wound.

First Aid

If someone is having breathing difficulty, call 911 or your local emergency number right away, then:

Do Not

DO NOT:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you or someone else has any of the symptoms of difficult breathing, in the Symptoms section above.

Also call your health care provider right away if you:

Also call your provider if your child has a cough and is making a barking sound.

Prevention

Some things you can do to help prevent breathing problems:

Wear a medical alert tag if you have a pre-existing breathing condition, such as asthma.

References

Cukor, J, Manno M. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 168.

Thomas SH, Goodloe, JM. Foreign bodies. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 60.

Wippold FJ II. Diagnostic imaging of the larynx. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 106.


Review Date: 4/12/2015
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.