Breathing Problems (Adult)

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What it feels like: an inability to breathe in and out with ease, whichcan occur suddenly or develop over time, and may be accompaniedby other symptoms, including chest pain, light-headedness, or cough.

What can make it worse: dust, chest injury, lying down, exertion,breathing in a particular substance, prolonged inactivity, recent sur-gery, certain times of year, allergies, emotional stress.What can make it better:  certain medications, sitting or standingupright.

Your Doctor Visit

What your doctor will ask you about: anxiety, confusion, light-headedness, lethargy, fever, chills, night sweats, blueness or numb-ness in lips or fingers, cough, coughing up sputum or blood, wheez-ing, noisy breathing, swelling, weight change, the influence of beingupright on your ability to breathe, chest pain, ankle swelling, previ-ous chest X-rays, electrocardiograms, tests of lung function, allergyskin tests.

Your doctor will want to know if you or anyone in your familyhas had any of these conditions: heart disease, high blood pres-sure, obesity, pneumonia, chest surgery, anemia, tuberculosis, AIDS,allergies to drugs, eczema, hay fever, lung failure, chronic lung dis-eases such as bronchitis, emphysema, or fibrosis.

Your doctor will want to know if you smoke cigarettes and, if so,how many and for how long.

Your doctor may also ask where you have lived and if you haveworked in certain professions linked to breathing problems,such as mining, stone carving, painting, and quarry work.

Your doctor will want to know if you’re taking any of these med-ications: medications for asthma, digitalis, diuretics (“water pills”),medications for high blood pressure, steroids, antihistamines, decon-gestants, allergy shots, antibiotics, inhalants, beta-blockers, oral con-traceptives.

Your doctor will do a physical examination including the fol-lowing: blood pressure, pulse, breathing rate, weight, temperature,listening to your chest and heart with a stethoscope, thorough neckexam, checking your arms and legs for swelling or discoloration,pushing on your abdomen, thorough skin exam. Your doctor will alsodo an electrocardiogram (EKG), depending on your symptoms.

WHAT CAN CAUSE BREATHING PROBLEMS IN ADULTS, AND WHAT IS TYPICAL FOR EACH CAUSE?

Cause: Asthma
What is it: Recurrent attacks of  wheezing, coughing, andshortness of breath  brought on by certain  triggers
Typcal Symptoms: Attacks typically occur  after exposure to certain triggers, such as pollen,  respiratory infections,  animals

Cause: Anemia (See  chapter on Weakness.)
What is it: Low blood count
Typcal Symptoms: Easy fatigue, dizziness that  occurs in certain positions, pallor, sometimes bloodpresent in stool

Cause: Obesity
What is it: Excess body weight
Typcal Symptoms: Worsening symptoms withmore weight gain, breath-ing troubles appear withexertion or bending, no his-tory of heart or lung disease

Cause: Foreign body  aspiration
What is it: Accidentally breathing in a foreign substance that blocks airways
Typcal Symptoms: Range from wheezing and rapid breathing to gasping, turning blue, and losingconsciousness unlessobject is removed fromthroat; symptoms typicallybegin while eating

Cause: Hyperventilation
What is it: Rapid, deep breathing
Typcal Symptoms: Sudden onset, anxiety,chest pain, light-headedness, tingling in the arms,legs, and around themouth

Cause: Pneumonia
What is it: “Collapsed lung”: an  abnormal collection of  air between the lungs  and chest wall
Typcal Symptoms: Sudden onset of breathing trouble, chest pain, may occur after chest injury

Cause: Congestive  heart failure
What is it: Heart becomes unable to pump enough blood to  meet the body’s needs
Typcal Symptoms: Trouble breathing with exertion or at night, history of heart disease or highblood pressure, weight gain

Cause: Respiratory  failure
What is it: A condition in which the  lungs cannot completely  get rid of carbon dioxide
Typcal Symptoms: Confusion, lethargy, sleepiness, shallow and rapid  breathing

Cause: Pulmonary  edema
What is it: A collection of fluid in the lungs
Typcal Symptoms: Severe breathing problems  that worsen when lyingdown, rapid breathing,coughing up sputum

Cause: Chronic  obstructive  pulmonary  disease (COPD)
What is it: Lung diseases in which the lungs become   damaged and do not   work properly
Typcal Symptoms: Cough, coughing up sputum, worsening afterwaking from sleep, more common in heavy smokersand people exposed toindustrial dusts

Cause: Tuberculosis
What is it: Lung infection that can  spread to other parts of  the body
Typcal Symptoms: Fever, night sweats, weight loss, chronic cough, coughing up blood, mostcommon in people withcompromised immunity,such as people with AIDS

Cause: Pulmonary  infarction or emboli
What is it: The obstruction of a   blood vessel feeding the lungs (embolus), some- times causing tissue  death in the lungs  (infarction)
Typcal Symptoms: Chest pain, apprehension, sweating, feeling faint, cough, coughing up blood, rapid breathing, sometimes history of calf pain or leg immobilization, such as onlong trips

Cause: Lung tumor
What is it: An abnormal growth of  cells in the lung
Typcal Symptoms: Change in cough patterns,  coughing up blood, chestache, more common incigarette smokers

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