A person who has difficulty breathing is having trouble moving airin or out of the lungs. This can be the result of an airway obstruction,disease, severe allergic reaction, injury, or other medicalcondition.
What are the causes and risks of the injury?
The causes of difficulty breathing can vary. Causes can be associated withmedical diseases and conditions that narrow the airways, such as:
emphysema, a chronic lungdisease in which the air sacs are destroyed,seen mostly in smokers
chronic bronchitis, a chroniclungdisease also seen in smokers, that is marked by persistent coughing up ofsputum from the lungs
asthma, a lung disease in whichthe overly-sensitive airways become narrowed in response to varioustriggers
Other causes of difficulty breathing include:
crush injuries to the chest orairways, such as those resulting from a motor vehicle accident or a sports injury
congestive heart failure, acondition in which the weakened heart is unable to pump enough blood to bodyorgans
heart disease, andabnormalitiesin any of the heart valves
adjustment to a high altitude
an obstruction in the airway, as in the case of a person who ischoking
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the injury?
The signs and symptoms of difficulty breathing are:
wheezing, which is a squeakingsound made when the person breathes out
shortness of breath, or thefeeling of not getting enough air
pale or bluish lips and fingernails
gurgling sounds in the chest
person clutching his or her throat or chest
coughing up blood
coughing up frothy, white material
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the injury recognized?
Diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma are diagnosed with pulmonary function tests and chest X-rays. Heart diseaseand congestive heart failure arediagnosed with chest X-rays, bloodtests, an ECG or electrocardiogram,and aphysical examination. A collapsed lung is diagnosed with a chest X-ray. Injuries to the chest are diagnosed bychest X-ray and by physical examination.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the injury?
Some of the ways to prevent breathing difficulties include:
following sports safety guidelines for children, adolescents, andadults
working closely with the healthcare provider to control diseases andconditions such as congestive heartfailure and asthma
wearing seat belts in a moving vehicle
being careful when going to a higher altitude
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the injury?
First aid is the most common treatment for someone having difficulty breathing.
Assist the person in using oxygenor an inhaler for lung disease, if appropriate.
Check for signs of circulation, such as normal breathing, coughing, ormovement in response to stimulation.
Contact the emergency medicalsystem immediately.
Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, if the person stops breathing.Use 15 chest compressions for every 2 mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths.
Stay with the person until medical assistance arrives.
Assume there may be other injuries if wounds are bad enough to injure thechest. Do not allow the person to move around. Try to firmly support theinjured area without moving the head, neck, or spine. In some instances, tohelp a person breathe, the head and back may need to be moved. Maintaining anopen airway and keeping the person breathing is most important.
If bubbles appear in the wound, there is probably an injury to the lung.Bandage the wound at once.
Bandage the wound with something that will not allow air into the wound ifbubbles appear or there is a “sucking” sound. Plastic wrap or a plastic bagwill work. Air needs to escape through the wound, so leave one corner open.The best way to seal the bandage is with petroleum jelly around three sides,leaving one corner free.
Do not let the person eat or drink anything.
Try not to move the person, and obtain medical assistance as soon aspossible.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
If the person has suffered a major injury, treating his or her breathingproblem may cause an injury to some other organ. Helping the person breath maycause further injuries to the neck or back. Maintaining an open airway andkeeping the person breathing is most important.
What happens after treatment for the injury?
A person who has difficulty breathing should carry a medical identification taglisting his or her existing medical conditions. He or she should keep amedication list handy. Any medications required for immediate help should becarried at all times.
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