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Breathing difficulties - first aid

  • Definition

    Breathing difficulties can be described in several different ways. You may be short of breath, unable to take a deep breath, gasping for air, or feel like you are not getting enough air.

    See also: Choking

    Alternative Names

    Difficulty breathing - first aid; Dyspnea - first aid; Shortness of breath - first aid


    If you are having difficulty breathing, it is almost always a medical emergency (other than feeling slightly winded from normal activity like exercise or climbing a hill).


    Difficulty breathing has many potential causes. Some of the most common are:

    • Collapsed lung, which can happen if you have emphysema or asthma, but may also happen spontaneously in young, healthy people
    • Heart attack
    • Heart disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, or heart failure
    • High altitudes, which can be a problem even in young people
    • Injury to the neck, chest wall, or lungs
    • Life-threatening allergic reaction
    • Pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lung, which can cause very abrupt and severe difficulty breathing
    • Sudden illness or infections like pneumonia, acute bronchitis, whooping cough, croup, or epiglottitis