What does difficulty breathing mean?
Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, is the uncomfortable feeling when you can’t draw a complete breath. It is a disconcerting feeling that can cause fear and anxiety. However, trouble breathing can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, some of which don’t have an underlying medical issue. In addition to medical concerns, breathing difficulty can be caused by changes in altitude, constricting clothing, or even a sedentary lifestyle.
What causes shortness of breath?
Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, including:
- Lung conditions including Asthma, Bronchitis, Pneumonia, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), A pulmonary embolism (a blot clot in one or more of the arteries leading to the lungs), Pulmonary hypertension, Croup, Epiglotitis (an infection of the tissue covering your windpipe that causes swelling)
- Stress, anxiety, and panic attacks
- Heart conditions including Coronary Artery Disease, congenital heart disease, arrhythmia, congestive heart failure
When to seek medical attention for difficulty breathing
The feeling of being unable to catch your breath is uncomfortable, but it can be a symptom of larger underlying health concerns. You should always seek medical attention for any shortness of breath, unless caused by exertion. Seek medical assistance immediately, or call 9-1-1, for any of the following symptoms:
- Blue lips or fingers
- A pale or grey complexion
- Excessive sweating
- Increased rate of breathing or flaring nostrils
- Breathing that has slowed significantly or stopped
Sometimes difficulty breathing, combined with other symptoms, is a sign of a serious medical issue, such as a heart attack. Go to the ER if someone is experiencing difficulty breathing along with one or more of the following:
- Pressure in the chest
- Tightness in the throat
- A barking cough
- Waking from sleep due to shortness of breath or the inability to catch your breath
- Feeling the urge to constantly sit up in order to catch your breath
Difficulty breathing in children
While many symptoms are the same in children as in adults, there are some specific signs to look for. Your child could be experiencing difficulty breathing if they are exhibiting any of the following behaviors apart from or in addition to the previously mentioned symptoms: Sometimes children react differently to injuries, or are not capable of communicating or fully explaining their injuries and symptoms. The symptoms above may apply, but you may need to seek medical attention if a child who received a head injury does not want or refuses to eat, or if an infant has a bulging soft spot on their head.
- Flaring of the nostrils when trying to breathe
- Using the neck, chest, or abdominal muscles to breathe
Wonderful staff, everyone helped out and made my son feel very comfortable! RN Randy was the sweetest guy & Johnny did great with Kason during his X-rays. Thank you so much guys!– Kristen