Breathing – The process
When we take a breath, we take in oxygen through our nose, down the trachea, through the bronchi and into our lungs. It helps our body take in oxygen and other gases and disperses it into the bloodstream and it absorbs and expels carbon dioxide. A number of small processes using different parts of the respiratory system make this intricate process work. A problem with any one of these processes could result in difficulties in breathing.
What are the common causes for breathing difficulties?
Sometimes the cause of a breathing problem could be congestion due to a simple cold, sinusitis, a mild allergy or asthma. This can be eased with inhalation and medication at home. But since breathing is an important process, a severe cold or wheeze could necessitate hospitalization and more aggressive treatment.
Serious causes of breathing difficulties could include:
- Congestive heart failure
- Respiratory infections like pneumonia, croup, and whooping cough etc.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Pericardial or pleural effusion.
- A very severe allergic reaction could cause the throat to swell up, and block it, preventing breathing.
In these cases, emergency response and immediate hospitalization would be required.
Remember that any sort of breathing difficult should always be treated as an emergency. The first response is to call a hospital and get an ambulance. While you wait for the ambulance here are some things that you should do and should not do.
1. Loosen the clothing (Tight clothing can restrict breathing. Check the under clothing too)
2. If there is prescribed medication that has to be taken in an emergency, administer it immediately (Sometimes the person may just need a puff from their inhaler to free the airway)
3. Make them sit up straight. This extends the respiratory tract and frees the airway. (Never make them bend over or put a pillow under their heads as this restricts air flow)
4. Check to see if they have any other accompanying symptoms like nausea or dizziness, pain, sweating, rapid heartbeat or wheezing. (This could explain the reason for the breathlessness and if they faint on the way to the hospital or are unable to articulate the symptoms, you can notify the doctor)
5. Do not give them food or anything to drink if they are in severe distress
6. Check to see if there are any open wounds
(If there is an open wound and bleeding, especially in the head and neck, and if bubbles appear, staunch the blood flow at once and apply a bandage. Try to do this without moving them)
7. Check for visible rashes. You can inform the doctor as soon as you reach the hospital
8. In severe cases, you may have to do CPR till the ambulance gets there
It is important to call an ambulance from a hospital as it will be better equipped and will arrive with experienced medical staff that can monitor the patient along the way.
Accompany the ambulance to the hospital so that you can update the doctor on what happened and if any help or medication was given. Carry the patient’s medical records with you, so the doctors on call can check the patient’s medical history before starting treatment.