Breathing Emergencies

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A breathing emergency is any respiratory problem that generally

breathing emergencies
breathing emergencies

occurs when air cannot travel freely and easily into the lungs. Breathing emergencies can be life-threatening. The body needs a continual oxygen supply for cellular respiration to occur in the cells of the body. Needless to say, oxygen is essential for survival. When there is not enough oxygen in the body, cells will die. The process of respiration involves inspiration (inhalation) of oxygen and expiration (exhalation) of carbon dioxide.

When breathing stops, the damage to the cells will depend on the amount of time without oxygen.

Minutes Effects
0 minutes Breathing stops. Heart will soon begin to cease beating.
4 – 6 minutes Possible brain damage
6 – 10 minutes Likely brain damage
Over 10 minutes Certain irreversible brain damage; and most likely death


Types of Breathing Emergencies

There are two main types of breathing emergencies:

  • Respiratory distress: breathing is difficult
  • Respiratory arrest: breathing has stopped

Causes of Breathing Emergencies

There are many possible causes of breathing emergencies. Any one of these breathing emergencies can immediately lead to cessation of breathing. The common causes of breathing emergencies include:

  • Respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia
  • Respiratory conditions, such as asthma
  • Choking(obstructed airway)
  • Electrocution
  • Shock
  • Drowning
  • Heart attack or heart disease
  • Chest or lung injury, such as sucking chest wound
  • Allergic reactions
  • Hyperventilation
  • Use of illicit drugs, and sometimes prescription drugs

Signs and Symptoms of Breathing Emergencies

It may not always be easy to detect breathing emergencies and although there are many causesof breathing emergencies, each with different signs and symptoms, it is necessary to recognize breathing emergencies at all times.

The following may indicate breathing emergencies:

  • Breathing is abnormally fast or slow, deep or shallow
  • Gasping for air
  • Making high-pitched noises, wheezing or gurgling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Flushed, pale or bluish skin
  • Dizziness or light headedness
  • Chest pain
  • Tingling sensation in the hands or legs

First Aid Management for Breathing Emergencies

For all breathing emergencies, call emergency medical services immediately to avoid further damage. The following steps are generally recommended in cases of breathing emergencies:

  • If the victim is unconscious, check for breathing and pulse. If both are not present, commence CPR. If there is no breathing, initiate rescue breaths.
  • For asthma patients, use inhaler and follow advise by doctor.
  • For choking victims, perform Heimlich manoeuvre.
  • Before helping victims of drowning and electrocution, ensure that it is safe to help these victims to avoid increasing number of casualties.
  • For anaphylaxis, assist the victim in taking epinephrine shots.

Respiratory problems that hinder air from traveling freely and easily are considered breathing emergencies. To learn more about how to manage different breathing emergencies, enrol in First Aid Training and CPR Courses available in the country.

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