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 or sudden breathing problems.
Breathing difficulties can range from:
Breathing difficulty is often 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 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.
Goodloe JM, Soulek J. Foreign bodies. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 51.
Rose E. Pediatric upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 162.
Schwartzstein RM, Adams L. Dyspnea. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 36.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 1/2/2023
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
Health Content Provider
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2023 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.