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Breathing Problem

Breathing Problem

Causes of Breathing problems can be due to illness such as asthma from infection, abdominal pain, stress (hyperventilation) or as a result of injury. Whatever the cause, problems occur when someone cannot breathe properly and their body’s oxygen level becomes lowered.



If the problem is severe, the casualty will become extremely unwell due to the effects of a severly lowered oxygen level (hypoxia).

You will notice

  • Rapid, very distressed breathing.
  • Irritability and aggression.
  • Blueness of the skin.

If the hypoxia is not treated promptly, the casualty will become unconscious and in extreme cases, stop breathing.



When air is prevented from entering the lungs the casualty is said to have suffocated. This may be due to a gas- or fume-filled atmosphere, or the smothering of the casualty’s mouth and nose.

If the cause of the suffocation is due to a gas or fume filled atmosphere, remove the casualty into the fresh air (only if it is safe for you to do so).



  • Clear the casualty’s face, chest and abdomen of any debris.
  • If the casualty is unconscious, check whether Resuscitation should be given and treat as appropriate.
  • All victims of suffocation, even if conscious following rescue, must go to hospital as a matter of urgency. Call for an ambulance.
  • Inhaling fumes
  • Depending on the source of the fumes, the effect on the casualty may be fatal. Any first aider who attends the scene may also be in very great danger.


  • Do not put yourself at risk if there is any possibility that you will be overcome by the fumes.


  • Call for the firebrigade as well as the ambulance service.
  • If safe to do so, evacuate the casualty into fresh air.
  • If the casualty is unconscious, check whether Resuscitation should be given and treat as appropriate.

Hanging and Strangling

Hanging and strangling constrict the casualty’s neck so that air cannot get into the lungs.


  • Remove any constriction from around the casualty’s neck.
  • If the casualty is unconscious, check the ABC of Resuscitation and treat as appropriate.
  • Call for an ambulance, even if recovery seems to be complete.

The Hanging Casualty

  • Try to support the casualty’ s body so as to relieve the pressure on the neck until he/she can be cut down.
  • The police will require any nooses etc; keep them safe.


Uncontrollable overbreathing (hyperventilaition) is often associated with an acute anxiety attack or panic attack.

You will notice

  • Rapid, deep breathing.
  • Feeling of dizziness or faintness.
  • Complaint of tingling in the hands.


  • Remain calm show patience and great kindness to the casualty.
  • Remove the casualty to a quiet area away from any cause of panicking.
  • Encourage the casualty deliberately to slow the rate of breathing to a more normal pattern.


If the casualty is unable to gain control of breathing after 5 minutes, or is unable to attempt to do so, get him/her to breath in and out of a paper bag until the breathing becomes normal.

If the casualty remains in the state of hyperventilation after 20-30 minutes, summon medical aid.



Also known as hiccoughs, these are caused by the diaphragm contracting suddenly and repeatedly. Each contraction causes a short expulsion of air that makes the familiar hiccup noise as it encounters the trachea that is normally blocked off.

Attacks are usually of a few minutes duration but it is possible that they can be more prolonged (even days and in a very few instances weeks). Then they are not only tiring but painful.


  • Advise the casualty to take a very deep breath and to hold it for as long as possible OR
  • Use a paper bag: the casualty should be advised to rebreathe his/her own expired air by holding the bag over the nose and mouth. Continue for 3-5 minutes OR
  • Help the casualty to take a drink from the wrong side of a glass.
  • If the hiccups persist after 2-3 hours seek medical advice.

Sudden Breathing Problems

On occasions, otherwise fit and healthy individuals can suddenly suffer difficulties with breathing. This may be due to a number of reasons, including asthma or a collapsed lung.

You will notice

  • Rapid breathing (maybe deep or shallow).
  • Distress.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Blueish skin.


  • If the casualty is unconscious, check the ABC of Resuscitation and treat as appropriate.
  • If the casualty is conscious, move into a comfortable sitting position.
  • Loosen tight clothing at the neck, chest and waist.
  • Call for an ambulance.


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