Breathing difficulty simply means – unable to breathe normally and smoothly. While it might be a very common symptom, diagnosing the exact cause could be challenging for doctors due to the wide range of underlying reasons.
What does the patient experience?
Normal breathing is hindered as a result of which the individual has to make more effort to inhale oxygen adequately. There might be congestion in nose and chest, wheezing, tightness in chest etc. Patients who are weak, have a heart or lung problem tend to gasp for breath or experience shortness of breath after walking, running or climbing stairs.
Breathing difficulty might be chronic or acute.
Causes of breathing difficulty
Lung conditions that are responsible for inducing difficulties in breathing are asthma, bronchitis, lung or respiratory tract infection, pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism, COPD, tuberculosis, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer etc.
Chronic cold, flu, sinusitis, etc. lead to blockage in nasal passage which makes breathing troublesome.
Breathing difficulty is a very common symptom of heart attack and heart failure. Patients who have abnormal heart beat, pericarditis or infection in the heart muscle also experience the same.
Apart from these reasons, there are several other circumstances that might momentarily give you a hard time to inhale air and they are: travelling to high altitude where there’s insufficient oxygen, commuting through pollution, carbon monoxide poisoning, panic attacks, etc.
When should you see a doctor?
If you realize that the symptoms are different from normal nose blockage due to cold then you must go for a medical check-up. A few signs that foretell health issues are wheezing, loud noise while breathing, pale skin, swelling in ankles and hands, chest pain, or if you can sense that the problem tends to persist for a few days.
You must always call for emergency help if you are experiencing breathing difficulty all of a sudden.
Diagnosis of breathing difficulty
Your doctor will thoroughly examine the symptoms and then feel your chest and lungs with a stethoscope. Let you doctor know the circumstances where you feel trouble in breathing, if you have a medical history, taking medicines or are allergic to anything.
Depending on the initial evaluation, your doctor will advise specific tests that are suitable for you.
Common tests for breathing difficulty are
- Spirometry test
- Pulmonary function test
- Asthma test
- Allergy test
- Exercise testing
CT scan, MRI of chest and lungs will be done.
To rule out heart condition, ECG and echocardiogram will be performed. Blood test will be ordered to measure levels of oxygen and other gases in it and also to detect infections.
Treatment of breathing difficulty
Treatment and management of breathing difficulty is absolutely dependent on the problem you are suffering from and thus, it differs from one patient to another. For example, if your or child has been diagnosed with asthma then the first line of treatment will be to avoid triggers combined with anti-asthma medicines. Similarly, antihistamines are prescribed for allergy.
If you have a heart condition then your treatment will be directed towards it.
Emergency patients are admitted in hospital and special measures and given artificial supply of oxygen to restore their breathing.
Day to day care for breathing difficulty
- Practice breathing techniques everyday – this includes different forms of yoga like alternate nose breathing, abdomen breathing, deep and relaxed breathing, cooling air technique, etc.
- Avoid exposing yourself to triggers for asthma or the allergies you are suffering from. Cover your nose and mouth and remember to carry the inhaler along with.
- Perform the exercises as advised by your doctor and never overdo them.
Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: January 25, 2015