Difficulty breathing - first aid; Dyspnea - first aid; Shortness of breath - first aid
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:
Breathing difficulty is almost always a medical emergency. An exception is feeling slightly winded from normal activity, such as exercise.
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:
If someone is having breathing difficulty, call 911 or your local emergency number right away, then:
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.
People having 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.
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.
Parsons MS, Stachecki RP, Wippold FJ. Diagnostic imaging of the larynx. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 105.
Rose E. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 167.
Thomas SH, Goodloe JM. Foreign bodies. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 53.
Review Date: 3/31/2017
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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