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How to Help Someone Who Is Having Trouble Breathing

Updated on November 12, 2015
Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah has been trained in First Aid as a consequence of working with teens as an educator, Girl Scout leader, and school volunteer.

Anyone Can Suddenly Stop Breathing

If someone has difficulty breathing there can be many causes, including a heart attack, asthma, medication or choking.
If someone has difficulty breathing there can be many causes, including a heart attack, asthma, medication or choking. | Source

Why Someone May be Having Difficulty Breathing

Many problems can cause an adult or child to suddenly have trouble breathing!

There are, in fact, several different health problems that can cause a person to suddenly begin to need help breathing. Breathing emergencies can be caused by allergic reactions, asthma, electric shock, heart attacks, and even some medications. Since it is essential to get help right away if someone is having difficulty breathing, it is important that we all learn how to quickly recognize asthma symptoms, as well as symptoms of other breathing emergencies. Although some are obvious, others can be very subtle.

If you have a family member who sometimes has difficulty breathing, you may even want to keep a rescue mask and pocket resuscitator on hand. They are very inexpensive and could make it easier for you to keep them alive until emergency personnel arrive.

Everyone Should Learn Proper CPR Procedure

Don't panic if someone faints or stops breathing, but go ahead and be prepared to start using the correct CPR procedure and call 9-1-1 immediately!

Since most high schools in the United States now require that all their graduates take a Red Cross approved CPR class, chances are good that you have been trained in proper CPR procedure sometime in the past. If so, begin CPR right away (or find someone else who has been trained). In addition, you or someone else should call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately. The emergency personnel will give you further instructions, and can even walk you through the steps of CPR if it has been a while since you have had a reason to use it.

If you are alone, call 9-1-1 and then start CPR. You want to make sure that emergency personnel are on their way as quickly as possible. Continue to administer CPR until they show up.

Learn the Heimlich Maneuver

If someone begins choking while eating food, their breathing emergency will be different than if they faint and stop breathing. Instead of immediately starting CPR, you may need to do the Heimlich maneuver.One symptom of a choking emergency is if the person is gasping for breath, or clutching their throat. If you see this happen, ask the person if they are choking. If they nod their head, attempt the Heimlich maneuver. If it doesn't solve the problem quickly, call emergency medical personnel. While you are waiting, keep trying the Heimlich maneuver. In addition, remember that some medicines can cause breathing problems. Ask if they have taken any medications.

This Is The First Aid Book I Keep Handy to Help With All Kinds of Medical Emergencies

Subtle Symptoms of Breathing Difficulties

Someone who is having a breathing emergency may not faint, stop breathing or begin choking. There are other symptoms of breathing problems that may be more subtle. For example, the victim may begin breathing unusually slowly or rapidly, or their breath can be especially deep or shallow. It is also a concern if someone begins wheezing, gurgling or making other sounds. These may be asthma symptoms. Ask if they have an asthma inhaler that they use for asthma, or if there is other medication that they need. Most people who use asthma inhalers keep them handy. Again, call for assistance.

Another possible cause of breathing difficulties is that they could be having a heart attack! There are additional clues that could indicate a heart problem. Look at their skin. Are they sweating heavily? Is their skin moist? Or is their skin suddenly pale or flushed? Are their lips beginning to look bluish? All of these are cause for alarm! Be concerned, as well if the victim is dizzy, light-headed, or experiences chest pain. These symptoms could signify a heart-attack, heat stroke, cardiac asthma or other serious problem. Have the patient sit down and try to relax while you call 9-1-1.

If you want to be prepared for an emergency, you will take First Aid Courses whenever you have the opportunity. You could save a life.

Source: American Red Cross First Aid courses and literature.


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    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

      Everyone should take at least one CPR class in their lifetime. In some careers, people are expected to take a class once every couple of years. The more people who know CPR, the more lives that can be saved.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 3 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I should really take a CPR class. This is a really great, informative hub! :)

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 3 years ago from Brazil

      I found myself choking the last time I visited my family. I had taken a paracetamol but was laughing at something someone said and the tablet went the wrong way.

      It was so frightening. As I was gasping for air, my sister thought I was joking until she saw the look on my face. I tried to tell her to slap me on the back which she finally did. This solved the problem, thank goodness.

      I didn't realize they taught this in high school, it is a very useful life skill to learn.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      Thought I had read all of your articles! How did I miss this one? This is very important information and I'm going to share it and also, voted up!

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      You are right that we all need to brush up on our first aid training. If we are with someone who is choking, or having any other emergency, we want to be able to react appropriately and quickly.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      This is a good reminder to brush up on our first aid techniques. My husband always reminds me to use the universal choking gesture if he ever needs to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Thank you for sharing.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for helping to spread the word about this important topic. It could save a life!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      Adding this article to my health board on Pinterest.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

      Moonlake, it must be terrifying to wake up from a deep sleep and realize that you cannot breath! I hope it never happens to you again. I am glad that you found this article to be helpful, and I hope that it helps others in the future, too!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      I woke once in the middle of the night from a sound sleep unable to breath. I could not get any air. My husband was jumping around asking me what he should do? I couldn't answer, suddenly I was able to breath. It was awful the doctor figured it was some kind of allergy attack.

      Good information in your hub voted up.

    • Deborah-Diane profile image

      Deborah-Diane 5 years ago from Orange County, California

      Thank you for your comments. It is frightening when people are having trouble breathing, so it is always good to know what to do to help them.

    • profile image

      daisy 5 years ago

      thank you for the imformation............/~```

    • billips profile image

      billips 6 years ago from Central Texas

      Excellent article - good information to keep in mind if we see someone in distress - there is noting more distressing than struggling for air.

    • Kayleesnider profile image

      Kayleesnider 6 years ago from USA

      You mentioned good point here.Good work.

    • ahase profile image

      ahase 6 years ago from Bangladesh

      Very Useful Hub....Thanks for sharing....I had also asthma before I left smoking habit.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 6 years ago

      Thanks for this great guide. It is good to be prepared. I'm grateful that you have put this information together in one helpful guide. I hadn't thought about medications that could affect breathing, so I definitely learnt from this hub.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Its one of those things you think will never happen to you or someone you love, but one day it will. Thanks for helping us be ready.

    • profile image

      Susieq42 6 years ago

      My husband has asthma. We've been through some of the above breathing problems and even gone off to the ER. He's been hospitalized or in the ER for O2 several times. It's no fun, believe me! These last couple years have been better, but once he was in ICU. Thanks for the informative hub.

    • damek profile image

      damek 6 years ago from USA

      Hope that this hub will help somebody in the future. Good job!