It’s every parent’s nightmare: you discover your baby or child is gasping, struggling to breathe. Or you notice your flu symptoms are getting worse and it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest—it’s so hard to breathe. Respiratory distress is not only a frightening condition, it’s also one that you need to know how to spot in others so you can react swiftly and appropriately.
“Respiratory distress is when you are having trouble breathing and the oxygen level in your bloodstream is depleting,” said Advance ER physician Dr. Alex Lee. “It is very scary when it happens to you or your child and it requires immediate medical help.”
Signs of Respiratory Distress:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in chest
- Struggling to breathe, pulling hard for a breath
- Increased rate of breathing
- Fast belly breaths
- Noisy breathing – grunts, wheezing, rattling, whistling, gurgling
- Pale or bluish skin color
- Clammy, cool skin while sweating
- Skin pulls in on neck or chest
- Flared nostrils
- Frightened face, waving hands
- Low blood pressure
- Confusion, weakness, exhaustion
Common causes of breathing problems:
“There are several common conditions that can rapidly escalate into respiratory distress,” said Dr. Lee. “If you experience any of these conditions, be on the lookout for the onset of a serious breathing problem.”
- Allergic reaction
- Aspiration – breathing stomach contents into lungs
- Near drowning
- Lung bruising from trauma
- Inhaling smoke or dangerous fumes
When should I go to the ER?
As soon as you notice any kind of shortness of breath or difficulty breathing in you or your child, get to the nearest ER or call 911 immediately. If the respiratory problem is accompanied by a fever, cough, clammy skin or mood change, you must get immediate medical attention. If the person is leaning forward trying to breathe while sitting down, this is a warning sign that he or she is about to collapse.
What kind of treatment will I receive at the ER?
“As soon as you arrive, we will get to work on ways to help you get more oxygen while easing your symptoms,” said Dr. Lee. “A board-certified physician will diagnose your condition and set up a treatment plan, including steps to take to prevent another recurrence in the future, if possible.”
Advance ER is equipped with routine ER equipment used in imaging, diagnostics, labs and treatment, and our on-site pharmacy provides needed medications for our patients. A chest X-ray, CT scan and/or labs may be required to diagnose a respiratory condition.
- Do not smoke, especially around children and babies
- Keep dust under control
- Don’t use baby powder on your child
- Practice good handwashing and safe sneezing techniques to cut down on exposure to germs
- Stay away from sick people
- If you have allergies, consult with your doctor about whether or not an EpiPen® (epinephrine autoinjector) is appropriate to keep on hand
- If you have an incident of inhaling water while swimming, have a doctor check you for dry drowning or lung injury
“We’re here 24/7 for all of your breathing concerns, and other health concerns, so don’t hesitate to come in at the first sign of difficulty,” said Dr. Lee.
Meet Dr. Alex Lee:
Alex Lee, M.D., is board-certified in Emergency Medicine. He received his medical degree from Tulane University in New Orleans and he completed his residency in Emergency Medicine at LSU/Charity Medical Center. He has been practicing in Dallas for a decade and he welcomes patients of all ages. Dr. Lee is fluent in both English and Korean.