What Are the Four Signs of Respiratory Distress? When to Visit an ER?


If you’re having trouble breathing and displaying signs of working harder to breathe or are not getting sufficient oxygen, it indicates you have respiratory distress. Respiratory distress that comes on unexpectedly and hampers your ability to function requires help from 911 or urgent treatment for the condition from a nearby facility.

The four signs indicating respiratory distress are not isolated and show what the shortness of breath accompanies. You may have the following when suffering from respiratory distress.

Swelling in your ankles and feet.

Challenges breathing when lying flat.


Worsening of pre-existing breathlessness.

The indicators mentioned are merely for reference because the list needs to be more comprehensive. Below are signs that indicate you are working harder to breathe and not getting sufficient oxygen. You must learn the symptoms of respiratory distress to determine how to respond to the problem you confront. You must always see your healthcare provider seeking immediate care by conducting a diagnosis for your breathing challenges.

The symptoms of respiratory distress that might affect you include:

  • Breathing Rate: Extra breaths every minute indicate you are confronting challenges breathing or not getting sufficient oxygen.
  • Color Changes: a bluish tinge around your mouth on the inside of the lips or your fingernails is another indicator of insufficient oxygen. Your skin color may also appear pale or grey.
  • Grunting: grunting sounds may become evident every time you exhale. Grunting is a technique by your body to keep the air in your lungs to ensure they remain open.
  • Nose Flaring: the openings of your nose spreading open when breathing also indicates you must work harder to breathe.
  • Retractions: if your chest appears to sink below the neck or under your breastbone with each breath, it is a technique to bring more air into your lungs. The retractions are visible under the rib cage or the muscles between the ribs.
  • Sweating: increased sweating on the head with skin feeling warm to the touch but feeling cool or clammy is a sign of the rate of breathing being fast.
  • Wheezing: tight, whistling, or musical sounds from your throat mean the air passages are smaller, making breathing challenging and causing respiratory distress.
  • Body Position: You may be compelled to lean forward when sitting to help take deep breaths spontaneously. Changes in your body position indicate that you are about to collapse.

If you notice someone with the symptoms mentioned above or experience breathlessness yourself, consider calling 911 immediately or seek emergency care from the nearest facility to help alleviate respiratory distress. The faster you get to a medical professional and a hospital or an emergency room, the better you can recover from the problem.

How to Manage Respiratory Distress by Self-Care?

If affected by chronic respiratory distress, you can use the following self-care tips to prevent breathlessness from worsening. They are:

  • Quit Smoking: If you smoke, consider quitting the habit immediately, or don’t start smoking if you have refrained until now. Smoking is responsible for most COPD cases. If having COPD quitting smoking can slow the progress of respiratory distress while preventing other complications.
  • Avoid Pollutants Exposure: Avoid breathing allergens and environmental toxins as much as possible and avoid chemical fumes or passive smoke.
  • Avoid Temperature Extremes: Any extremely hot and humid or cold activity can magnify dyspnea resulting from chronic lung diseases.
  • Have a Plan of Action: If medical conditions result in respiratory distress, discuss with your healthcare provider the steps you can take if your symptoms worsen to have a plan of action in hand to deal with breathlessness when it occurs.
  • Regular Exercise: Your physical fitness can increase your ability to tolerate activities and receive help from regular exercise. Exercising regularly and losing weight decrease the contribution of breathlessness from deconditioning. Discuss your plans with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
  • Beware of Elevation: if traveling to elevated areas with high altitude, spare time to adjust and avoid exertion.
  • Medications: if suggested medications for chronic lung and cardiac conditions, ensure that you don’t skip the doses because it can result in poorer control of dyspnea.
  • Equipment Checks: If relying on supplemental oxygen, ensure your supply is adequate and the equipment functions correctly.

The signs of respiratory distress mentioned should help you determine the treatment you must seek when affected by this problem. In addition, the tips in this article should work as a precautionary measure to avoid breathlessness if you are affected by a chronic condition.

If you or anyone suffers from respiratory distress, Express ERs provides the help required to alleviate your situation if you contact them immediately or drive down to the facility. Seek treatment for breathlessness for any conditions described in this article, and use the tips mentioned to keep your problem from worsening.

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