Difficulty Breathing and Other Respiratory Issues

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24/7 Emergency Care for Potentially Life-Threatening Symptoms

Feeling like you can’t get enough air or watching a family member struggle to breath can be very frightening. Respiratory issues may make you feel short of breath, cause coughing or wheezing, or even cause your lips or fingernails to have a blue tinge. Maybe your chest feels tight.

Don’t ignore respiratory issues. If you have underlying conditions such as asthma, COPD, coronary artery disease, or congenital heart disease, or if the patient is a baby or young child, it’s vital to seek medical treatment. Any sudden respiratory problem should be diagnosed and treated immediately.

Your healthcare provider needs to know how long you have had the problem, whether it is mild or intense, and if physical exertion makes it worse. Then you have an examination of your airway passages, lungs, and heart.

After considering your airway passages, lungs and heart, you may have blood tests, a chest X-ray, a CT scan, an echocardiogram, or pulmonary function testing to diagnose the problem.

Many lung conditions that cause breathing issues require immediate medical attention, particularly if there is pain, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness.

Breathing Difficulty and Respiratory Issues Causes and Treatments

One or more conditions or illnesses can cause breathing issues, and treatment can include medication and/or breathing assistance.

Breathing difficulties and respiratory issues may be caused by:

  • Asthma, an inflammation and narrowing of airways
  • Pneumonia, a lung infection causing inflammation and a build-up of fluid and pus
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of diseases that lead to poor lung function. Emphysema is one example
  • Pulmonary embolism, a blockage in one or more arteries leading to the lungs, typically caused by a blood clot elsewhere in the body, such as the leg or pelvis that travels to the lung
  • Pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and is often due to the narrowing or hardening of the arteries
  • Epiglottitis, an infection causing the tissue covering the windpipe to swell
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD), which narrows and hardens the arteries supplying oxygen to the heart
  • Congenital heart disease, an inherited problem with the structure and function of the heart
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF), the heart weakens and is unable to pump blood efficiently throughout the body
  • Heart attack, or problems with the heart valves
  • Hiatal hernia, caused by the upper part of the stomach protruding through the diaphragm into the chest
  • Environmental issues, including allergies, stress and anxiety, blocked air passages from a stuffy nose or mucus in the throat, or high altitudes
  • Viral infections, such as croup, a respiratory condition known for a distinctive barking cough

How Serious Are Breathing Issues and Respiratory Issues?

Discuss any breathing concerns with your doctor.

Contact emergency services if breathing difficulty comes on suddenly or breathing slows significantly or stops.

If the following respiratory symptoms apply, seek emergency medical care:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism (leg swelling, chest pain, cough, wheezing, profuse sweating, abnormal heart rate, dizziness, loss of consciousness, or a blue tinge to the skin).
  • Symptoms of epiglottitis (fever, sore throat, drooling, blue skin, difficulty breathing and swallowing, strange breathing sounds, chills, and hoarseness).

Seek medical attention if a child:

  • Has increased or persistent breathing difficulty
  • Has rapid breathing
  • Must sit up to breathe
  • Has retractions, where the skin of the chest between the ribs and neck sinks in with each breath

Contact ShorePoint Health ER & Urgent Care for further information about emergency care for breathing difficulties and respiratory issues. We are in-network with most major health insurance plans, including Medicare.

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