Respiratory distress occurs when a person feels they cannot get enough air. What kinds of respiratory distress are there and what can be done?

What is it?

What is respiratory distress?

Respiratory distress occurs when the sufferer feels they cannot get enough air or has difficulty breathing. There are various kinds of respiratory distress and many different causes, because breathing involves not only the lungs, but also the heart, muscles, skeletal system, brain, and other factors.

Mental factors, such as stress and anxiety, can also cause shortness of breath. The medical term for respiratory distress is dyspnoea.

There are basically three different types of dyspnoea:

  • Exertional dyspnoea: This type of respiratory distress occurs due to physical exertion. Smokers and people with cardiovascular diseases or lung diseases, like asthma are particularly susceptible to exertional dyspnoea.
  • Dyspnoea at rest: This type of respiratory distress occurs at rest, regardless of any physical exertion.
  • Orthopnoea:This is the most severe type of dyspnoea. Deeper inhalation is only possible with the auxiliary respiratory muscles, typically while sitting (upright posture). Breathing in a lying position is practically impossible. Orthopnoea frequently occurs in people with cardiac insufficiency.


What are the symptoms?

What are the symptoms of acute respiratory distress?

  • Rapid, shallow breathing or conspicuously deep breathing
  • Blue colouring in the lips / skin
  • Cold sweats
  • Agonal fear

What should you do?

What should I do when someone can't breathe?

To begin direct treatment, acute respiratory distress must be treated as an emergency by a family doctor or by the emergency department.

If a person is experiencing acute or severe respiratory distress, do the following:

  • Call 144 to report the emergency
  • Reassure the person
  • The person should sit down or lie with their upper body slightly elevated
  • Open tight clothes, ties, or bras
  • Make sure there is enough fresh air
  • Put the person in a position that makes it easier to breath
  • Perform pursed lip breathing