When Breathlessness Is an Emergency and What to Do About It

When Breathlessness Is an Emergency and What to Do About It

Eight percent of the emergency calls are usually related to shortness of breath or dyspnea. Interestingly, breathlessness can happen to anyone including healthy individuals after engaging strenuous workouts or climbing the stairs too fast. Normally, shortness of breath lasts for a few minutes and breathing gets back to normal. However, at times breathlessness can be an emergency and failure to know the difference can be life-threatening.

What Causes Breathlessness?

As aforesaid, shortness of breath could be a sign of running too fast and therefore doesn’t need any emergency treatment. But, more often than not, people who experience breathlessness have an underlying medical problem. Some of the factors that may cause dyspnea include:

  • Asthma
  • Emphysema or chronic bronchitis
  • Heart attack
  • Allergic reaction
  • Respiratory infections such as pneumonia, whooping cough, and acute bronchitis.
  • Heart disease
  • Fluid in the lungs

If you have any of these medical conditions, and experience shortness of breath and chest tightness, visit an urgent care clinic near you.

When to Call 911?

Resting for a few minutes can work for mild breathlessness. However, call 911 or visit our emergency room in New Braunfels, TX when you notice any of the following:

  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing with blood
  • Excessive drooling
  • Inability to speak
  • Hives
  • Facial and tongue swelling
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Wheezing sounds

What to Do During an Emergency?

When you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms seek medical emergency immediately. But, as you wait for help to arrive, performing first-aid can make a difference.

  • Take your medication promptly 

Most lung disease symptoms are controlled by medication. That means you need to take your medication whether you feel the need to or not. Additionally, having supplemental oxygen can go a long way in promoting proper breathing. If you are asthmatic, make sure your inhaler at hand all the time. Plus, epinephrine shot in case of an allergic reaction.

  • Practice breathing techniques 

Several breathing techniques can help with some of the breathing problems. You can try the pursed-lip breathing exercise which helps to slow the pace of breathing as well as release the air trapped in your lungs.

Also, you can try sitting forward, standing straight with supported back, sleeping in a relaxed position, and taking three deep breaths to force the air out. Plus, sit next to a fan as cool air can help relieve breathlessness. 

  • Don’t hold your breath

We tend to hold breath when heavy lifting or walking, but, this can become a habit and at times be life-threatening. Therefore, don’t hold your breath when lifting, walking or exercising. 

Other first-aid steps to take:

  • Begin CPR if necessary
  • Loosen any tight clothing
  • Monitor breathing until emergency care arrives
  • Don’t leave the patient alone even if the breathing stabilizes or you no longer wheezing sounds
  • Bandage open wounds on the neck if any
  • Don’t give the person food or drink
  • Elevate the head with a pillow

How to Prevent a Recurrence?

  • Breathlessness is preventable and here are a few tips to try:
  • Carry an epinephrine injection with you at all times if you have allergies
  • Invest in a good medical alert if you have pre-existing lung conditions such as asthma
  • Eliminate allergy triggers such as dust mites and molds
  • Exercise and build stamina. Lack of exercise can weaken your lung muscles and make them less efficient in utilizing the available oxygen. That’s why obesity and overweight are linked to breathlessness. Incorporate exercise in your daily routine, but don’t overdo it.
  • Don’t smoke and also avoid second-hand smoke
  • If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure the supply is adequate
  • Treat any underlying medical condition that may cause shortness of breath
  • It’s good to have an action plan in case of an emergency. Discuss with your doctor and caregivers the steps to take if the symptoms worsen

Shortness of breath can occur at any time. However, if it’s sudden and severe, it could indicate you need a medical emergency so don’t hesitate to come to Riverside ER for emergency care.