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Difficulty breathing - first aid; Dyspnea - first aid; Shortness of breath - first aid
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:
Breathing difficulty is almost always a medical emergency. An exception is feeling slightly winded from normal activity, such as exercise.
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:
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.
If someone is having breathing difficulty, call 911 or your local emergency number right away, then:
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 doctor or health care provider right away if you:
Also call your provider if your child has a cough and is making a barking sound or wheezing.
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.
Rose E. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 167.
Schwartzstein RM, Adams L. Dyspnea. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 29.
Thomas SH, Goodloe JM. Foreign bodies. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 53.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 1/12/2019
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. 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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