What to Do When You're Having Trouble Breathing

Having difficulty breathing can range from being terrifying and life threatening, to just seeming like an irritation that interrupts your life. In either case, you can't let it go on, and you should never have to suffer with breathing problems. If you are having trouble breathing, you can't ignore it – call your doctor as soon as you can so you can get the proper treatment.

If you ignore any breathing problems, you are essentially putting your life in danger. Shortness of breath is an obvious sign that something is wrong and is a sign of many different illnesses and diseases, both minor and severe. It's very dangerous for people with COPD, since an exacerbation ultimately causes the diseases to progress and decrease lung function even further. At the first sign of trouble, you should be seeking medical treatment.

There might be a circumstance when you can't make a phone call right away, or you don't have a way to get to the doctor or the emergency room. Maybe you are out somewhere and the battery on your phone has run out, or you are stuck at home during a snow storm without power. In cases like these, it's good to know some first aide and the steps you can take to help yourself, or someone else, who is having trouble breathing.

1. Figure Out What Caused the Problem


Figure out what caused the problem, in the first place, so you can possibly remove yourself from the cause and put a stop to it. You might be under emotional distress, in which case the best thing to do would be to try to calm down and make steps to do what you need to do to feel better. Another common cause is cigarette smoke in the air, or even mold spores. In these cases, get somewhere with fresh air, or have the problem/cause of the irritants removed.

2. Take a Deep Breath


Try to take deep breaths to calm yourself. Concentrate on inhaling deeply through your nose and slowly out of your mouth with pursed lips.

3. Drink Some Coffee


A few cups of coffee during an attack has been know to open up the air passages enough to relieve it before medical treatment can be given. Caffeine is a natural stimulant like most rescue inhalers, and the warm liquid can help to soothe tight chest muscles.

Educate yourself with our Free Oxygen Therapy Guide

Preventing Complications in Emergency Situations


Many people don't consider these preventative measures until they are in trouble, and that's understandable. First, consider your cell phone to be your life line. Make sure it's on you at all times, with a charged battery, and keep a charger with you at all times. Have your doctor and a few loved ones help you program quick dials for emergency contacts. Most cell phones will also allow you to reach 911 even if you do not have service.

If you have a rescue inhaler, keep that with you at all times, as well. A rescue inhaler might not work 100% every time, depending on the severity of your condition, but it will usually keep you well enough until you can get treated. Check to make sure there is enough medicine in the inhaler, and order a new one before the old one runs out. It's also a good idea to have a back-up inhaler somewhere, in case you lose the other one.

If you are reading this article and are currently experiencing difficultly breathing, we suggest contacting a physician immediately. If you are unable to reach your physician, and this is an emergency, dial 911.

About Scott Ridl: Scott joined American Medical Sales and Rentals in 2008 as a Web Manager and Content Writer. He is a writer and designer. He is extensively trained on oxygen therapy products from leading manufacturers such as Inogen, Respironics, Chart, Invacare, ResMed and more. Scott works closely with respiratory therapists and oxygen specialists to educate the community about oxygen therapy products, COPD, asthma and lung diseases. He writes weekly columns and is passionate about educating the community on oxygen therapy and respiratory issues.

27 thoughts on “What to Do When You're Having Trouble Breathing”

  • Wasn't aware that caffeine is a natural stimulant. Very informative post thanks a bunch.

    Reply
  • philip blay

    I'm unable to take a deep breath and gasping for air

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      If you are experiencing life threatening issues such as gasping for air contact your physician immediately, or if this is an emergency, dial 911.

      Reply
    • nicole

      i take dayquil as a pain reliever but 5 mins later i'm having a hard time to breath like there's something wrong with my throat.

      Reply
      • Danielle Jason

        Thank you for your comment, Nicole. If you notice any changes to your physical condition, especially in regards to medication, we suggest speaking with a doctor immediately.

        Reply
  • Lorraine Purcell
    Lorraine Purcell April 23, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Fur the last 3 weeks I have been ill with sinus and chest infection with bad asthma . I went to doctors and was put on steroids orally , combivent through nebulisers an antibiotic with penacillan in it and inhailors which to no avail I'm not getting better if anything worse finding hard to breath . Please could you advise me on what I should do .
    Lorraine

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason
      Danielle Jason April 24, 2017 at 7:42 am

      Thank you for your comment, Lorraine. If you are experiencing issues such as trouble breathing, we suggest contacting your physician immediately and discussing your symptoms. If this is an emergency, dial 911.

      Reply
  • Catie

    I've been having some difficulty breathing comfortably the past few days. Still on edge about seeing a doctor about it...

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason
      Danielle Jason July 19, 2017 at 4:01 am

      To ensure your health and safety, we recommend that if you are having difficulty breathing you contact your physician as soon as you are able.

      Reply
  • Kyle Mayano

    My girlfriend having some difficulty in breathing, actually I don't now what to do and I don't have any idea how to lessen her suffering bout this sequence, so what am I gonna to do?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Kyle. We suggest talking with a doctor the moment you notice an issue in you or a loved ones breathing. There are many solutions to help lessen any difficulties she is experiencing physically or mentally. The first step will always be consulting a medical professional.

      Reply
  • Aeron

    I know that this has been up for a while, but recently I've been having discomfort while breathing. It goes off an on, and sometimes its mild discomfort and other times I'm struggling. I also have been having headaches with these fits, and feel lightheaded. I have not passed out and usually, the fit passes within an hour or two. Another weird thing: it's usually only bad in the mornings and night. (Also, I'm 13.)

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Aeron. Anytime you experience a difference in your health, we suggest speaking with your doctor immediately.

      Reply
  • Lauren

    I have very bad allergies and sometimes out of nowhere and can't breathe and faint for at least 10 minutes I haven't had it very often, but today is the second day in a row where I can't breath. Should I seek medical attention or should I just call 911 because it seems as if it's getting even worse. Also I have minor asthma could that be it?

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      If you are experiencing shortness of breath, you should contact a physician immediately. Anytime you notice a change to your physical condition, you will want to discuss it with your doctor as soon as you are able.

      Reply
  • Trevor shaw

    My girlfriend has been having a really difficult time breathing all the sudden, it all started a month ago out of no where and I don't know what I can do to help. She's been to the doctor but they didn't give her anything or tell her what she should do when it starts. It hurts her to take deep breaths and I don't know what to do.

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your question, Trevor. We suggest consulting a dedicated breathing specialist, and/or re-inquiring with your doctor regarding the physical discomfort. A dedicated specialist will be able to work with your girlfriend's individual medical conditions, based on her history, and be able to assist with the best methods moving forward.

      Reply
  • Lauretta N

    I have been having difficulties in breathing, went to hospital to see a doctor they said its asthma and gave me astma drug which has no effect on my breathing problem. Pls wat more can I do

    Reply
    • Danielle Jason

      Thank you for your comment, Lauretta. If you're still having difficulty breathing we urge you to speak to your doctor. Discussing how your current prescribed solution is not working will allow your doctor to better assist you moving forward.

      Reply
  • Luke

    I can move my lungs but it feels like I am not getting any oxygen into them

    Reply
  • Adriana

    I took 40 10 mg of lexapro and now I'm having breathing problems

    Reply
  • Alliah

    I rarely have a hard time breathing, it only happens a few times not all the time.. Do i still need to contact my doctor?

    Reply
  • Zahli O’Donnell
    Zahli O’Donnell September 8, 2018 at 10:17 pm

    Hi, I’m a 12 year old girl and I have had trouble breathing for the past week now so I thought to look up on google what to do and I came across you. I am unable to breathe properly and I can only take deep breaths otherwise I can barely breathe. I have asked my mum what do do and she keeps saying have a bath and the stem will clear out your lungs but it not working what do I do?

    Reply
    • Margaret Goodman

      We are not able to provide medical advice as we are not a doctors office. We suggest speaking to the nurse at your school or a teacher about how you are feeling.

      Reply

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