Respiratory Distress

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is respiratory distress?

Respiratory distress is difficulty in breathing, and the psychological experience associated with such difficulty, even if there is no physiological basis for experiencing such distress. The physical presentation of respiratory distress is generally referred to as labored breathing, while the sensation of respiratory distress is called shortness of breath or dyspnea. Respiratory distress occurs in connection with various physical ailments, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, a serious reaction to various forms of injuries to the lung, and infant respiratory distress syndrome, a syndrome in premature infants caused by developmental insufficiency of surfactant production and structural immaturity in the lungs.

How common is respiratory distress?

Women are more likely to develop respiratory distress than men. This condition typically occurs in people who are already critically ill or who have significant injuries.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of respiratory distress?

The symptoms of respiratory distress typically appear between one to three days after the injury or trauma.

Common symptoms and signs of respiratory distress include:

  • Labored and rapid breathing
  • Muscle fatigue and general weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Discolored skin or nails
  • A dry, hacking cough
  • A fever
  • Headaches
  • A fast pulse rate
  • Mental confusion

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment can stop respiratory distress from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes respiratory distress?

Respiratory distress is primarily caused by damage to the tiny blood vessels in your lungs. Fluid from these vessels leaks into the air sacs in your lungs. These air sacs are where your blood is oxygenated. When these air sacs fill with fluid, less oxygen gets to your blood. Some common things that may lead to this type of lung damage include:

  • Inhaling toxic substances, such as salt water, chemicals, smoke, and vomit
  • Developing a severe blood infection
  • Developing a severe infection of the lungs, such as pneumonia
  • Receiving an injury to the chest or head, such as during a car wreck or contact sports
  • Overdosing on sedatives or tricyclic antidepressants

Risk factors

What increases my risk for respiratory distress?

Respiratory distress is usually a complication of another condition. People who are more likely to develop respiratory distress include:

  • Adults over 65 years old
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Chronic lung disease
  • A history of alcoholism

Respiratory distress can be a more serious condition for people who:

  • Have toxic shock
  • Are older
  • Have liver failure
  • Have a history of alcoholism

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.


How is respiratory distress diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose respiratory distress in several different ways. There’s no one definitive test for diagnosing this condition. If your doctor suspects that you experience respiratory distress, he or she may get your blood pressure, perform a physical exam, and do any of the following:

  • A blood test
  • A chest X-ray
  • A CT scan
  • Throat and nose swabs
  • An electrocardiogram
  • An echocardiogram
  • An airway examination

Low blood pressure and low blood oxygen can make your doctor suspect respiratory distress. An electrocardiogram and echocardiogram may be used to rule out a heart condition. If a chest X-ray or CT scan then reveals fluid-filled air sacs in the lungs, a diagnosis for respiratory distress is confirmed. A lung biopsy can also be conducted to confirm a respiratory distress diagnosis.

How is respiratory distress treated?    

There are some common treatments to cure respiratory distress, include:

  • Oxygen
  • Your doctor may give you oxygen by to force air into your lungs and reduce the fluid in the air sacs.
  • Positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP): Your doctor may help your breathing with a technique known as positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP).
  • Management of fluids: Management of fluid intake is another respiratory distress treatment strategy.
  • Medication: People with respiratory distress are often given medication to deal with side effects. These include the following types of medications:
    • Pain medication can relieve discomfort.
    • Antibiotics can treat an infection.
    • Corticosteroids can treat an infection.
    • Blood thinners can be used to keep clots from forming in the lungs or legs.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation: People recovering from respiratory distress may need pulmonary rehabilitation. This is a way to strengthen the respiratory system and increase lung capacity.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage respiratory distress?

Actually, there is no way to prevent respiratory distress. However, you may be able to lower your risk of respiratory distress by doing some following:

  • Seek prompt medical assistance for any trauma, infection, or illness.
  • Stop smoking cigarettes, and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Give up alcohol. Chronic alcohol use may increase your mortality risk and prevent proper lung function.
  • Get your flu vaccine annually and pneumonia vaccine every five years. This decreases your risk of lung infections.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

Review Date: March 2, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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