Aug 28, 2019

Everyone– human beings, animals, and even plants– needs air to breathe. However, there are some instances wherein breathing becomes a challenge– after eating a heavy meal, when feeling stress or anxious, after a bad dream, or this could involve a serious medical condition. There are so many possible reasons, causes, and factors that could trigger a breathing problem. It is very important to always know what to do– knowledge can save and extend life.

I am not a medical expert can I still help? The answer is, yes.

How breathing works

The respiratory system– responsible for the process and cycle of breathing– is divided into two parts: (1) Upper Respiratory Tract– which includes the nose, mouth, and the upper part of trachea; and (2) Lower Respiratory Tract– which includes the lower part of trachea, the bronchi, bronchioles, and the lungs.

The basic act of inhaling and exhaling air in the body is called breathing. Inhalation is the intake of oxygen from the air– producing energy– causing the chest to expand. Exhalation, on the other hand, is the expulsion of carbon dioxide back to the air– which is the by-product– causing the chest to contract.

Needless to say, breathing is an integral part of a person’s life. We need to breathe in order to live. The air should be clean so that the airways are clear from any blockage that may cause choking. The way we breathe is also important and it barely depends on what we do. Physical activities which include walking, running, swimming, and the like require deep and heavy breathing. However, if the air we breathe consists of irritants, allergens, or toxins, this could lead to breathing problems.

What are the common causes of breathing problems?

Difficulty and shortness of breath

Some people get the difficulty of breathing when they have a cold or flu. Others have trouble breathing because of sinusitis, allergies, and asthma. The common symptoms of these problems are nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, chest congestion, cough, wheezing, labored breathing, and shallow breathing. A nasal passage inflammation that is due to viruses and allergens will trigger reflexes and will eventually lead to one common condition called asthma attacks.

Among the populations with a high case of asthma are:

  • Commonly seen in boys among children
  • Commonly seen in women among adults
  • African Americans
  • Puerto Ricans
  • People living in the northeastern part of the United States
  • People living below the poverty threshold
  • People with constant exposure in their workplace

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, asthma is a chronic, or long-term that causes the inflammation of the lungs– causing the airways to contract. People with asthma may experience symptoms that range from mild to severe and may happen rarely or every day. It affects people of all ages, often starting in childhood.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, more than 25 million people in the United States have asthma. The burden of having a respiratory disease affects individuals and their families, schools, workplace, neighborhoods, cities, and states. Annual health care expenditures for asthma alone are estimated at $20.7 billion.

Home treatments to alleviate shortness of breath

If the breathing problems are not related to a medical condition, Healthline recommends the following home treatments that are effective in helping the body and airways to relax:

  1. Pursed-lip breathing. This slows down the pace of breathing, making each breath deeper and more effective. This is also helpful in releasing the air that is trapped in the lungs. It is used during a difficult part of a person's daily activity such as bending, lifting objects or climbing stairs.
  2. Sitting forward. This basic practice helps the body to relax and allows easier breathing.
  3. Sleeping in a relaxed position. A lot of people experience shortness of breath while they sleep. Try to lie on your side with a pillow between your legs, your head elevated, keeping your back straight. This position helps the body to relax making breathing easier.
  4. Using a fan. According to a reliable source, cool air can help relieve shortness of breath. Placing a small fan towards the face helps with the symptoms.
  5. Drinking coffee. One study shows that caffeine is most especially helpful to people with asthma. It helps the airway muscles to relax and improve lung function for up to four hours.

Lifestyle changes can positively affect the treatment

Even if there are a number of ways to treat breathing problems, lifestyle change is the one that can be taken advantage of because it is for free– and it starts with our own self. According to Healthline, the following lifestyle changes include:

  • Quitting smoking, completely avoiding tobacco smoke
  • Avoiding exposure to pollutants, allergens, and environmental toxins
  • Losing weight for obese or overweight people
  • Avoiding exertion at high elevations
  • Eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and seeing a doctor if there are underlying medical issues
  • Following the recommended treatment plan for other medical illness such as asthma

Always remember that only the medical specialist can diagnose the cause of breathing problems.

When to seek medical attention

If the situation gets worse, the next best action is to call the doctor for professional help. You should call your doctor if the shortness of breath is accompanied by the following:

  • Experiencing a sudden medical emergency
  • Can’t get enough oxygen
  • Have chest pain
  • Experience frequent or continued shortness of breath
  • Awakened at night because of difficulty breathing
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Difficulty breathing while lying flat
  • High fever with chills and cough

Experience wheezing (making a whistling sound when you breathe) or tightness in your throat

  • Shortness of breath is getting worse

Remember that the specific medication and treatment program that works for a family member or a friend may not be the correct approach for your breathing problems.

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