What to Do When You Have Trouble Breathing

Breathing test in Pulmonary Medicine

It’s normal to have trouble breathing while you’re exercising or engaging in strenuous physical activity. Getting winded after going for a run isn’t cause for alarm, for example. You may also have difficulty breathing due to a stuffy nose or a cold. With the exceptions of exercise and nasal congestion, however, difficulty breathing should be taken very seriously.

For emergencies

Having trouble breathing can cause discomfort. It can also make it difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs. People experience breathing problems in different ways:

  • shortness of breath
  • rapid shallow breathing
  • inability to breathe deeply
  • gasping for air
  • inability to get enough air

You don’t want to take chances when someone has trouble breathing. Breathing problems can be caused by a number of very serious and life-threatening health issues. Call 911 immediately for medical emergencies.

But when should you call 911 for breathing problems?

People who have been diagnosed with conditions such as asthma or COPD – who have a plan in place to manage their symptoms – may not need emergency care. If you do not normally have trouble breathing and experience breathing problems, however, you should take this seriously and seek immediate medical attention.

What if breathing problems are “normal”?

The only times when it’s normal to have trouble breathing are when you’re being physically active or if you’re congested. Even if you often have trouble breathing – and breathing problems become normal for you – that doesn’t mean that you can ignore the symptoms.

If you frequently have difficulty breathing, it’s very important that you speak to a doctor to find out the cause. Many things can cause breathing problems, and some are very serious:

  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • emphysema
  • pneumonia
  • lung cancer
  • respiratory infections
  • allergic reactions
  • a blood clot in the lungs
  • heart disease

Call 911 for medical emergencies and talk to your doctor if you experience any trouble breathing. Your doctor may refer you to a doctor that specializes in pulmonary medicine