Emergency Symptoms Are Good at Hiding
Breathing in and breathing out is something we do instinctively day and night. And as long as things go smoothly, we don’t give it a second thought. So, when you have shortness of breath or trouble breathing, it’s naturally alarming. But do these symptoms—or other common respiratory issues—require a visit to the emergency room?
Figuring out what’s an emergency and what can safely wait for a doctor’s appointment or a visit to an urgent care center isn’t always easy. Here’s a look at some of the most common respiratory problems along with information that will help you assess the severity of your symptoms.
Signs of an emergency
Difficulty breathing is one of the top reasons people go to the emergency room.
Shortness of breath is a red-alert symptom. If you experience shortness of breath that is so severe that it interferes with activities of daily living or function, call 911 for an ambulance or have someone drive you to the ER immediately.
Additional symptoms to watch for:
Shortness of breath paired with one or more of the following? Go to the ER.
- Chest pain
- Pain that spreads to your arms, neck, jaw or back
- Trouble breathing
These are all signs that you could be having a heart attack. It’s important to call 911; it could be too dangerous to drive yourself to the emergency room.
Other respiratory problems
Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes the airways to become inflamed, swollen or clogged with mucus. When that happens, the flow of air into and out of the lungs is obstructed, causing symptoms that include:
- Fast breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
This condition can usually be controlled with asthma medicines and by avoiding triggers. But if you have an asthma attack and your usual treatment doesn’t provide relief, go to the ER.
Pneumonia, which is an infection in one or both lungs, is a treatable disease. But it can be life-threatening, especially for infants and young children, those with weakened immune systems and chronic lung conditions, and those over age 65. Common symptoms include:
- A very high or low heart rate
- Chest pain when coughing or breathing
- Extreme fatigue
- High fever
- Persistent cough
- Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
Especially those in one of the high-risk groups should go to the emergency room immediately for treatment.
If you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 for immediate care.
A sore throat is most often caused by the common cold or flu. You may wake up with a scratchy, sore throat that makes swallowing difficult, but even though it’s unpleasant it’s likely not an emergency.
If your child has a throat infection, get immediate medical care if he or she has difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing and is drooling excessively, which may indicate an inability to swallow.
If you have symptoms that include a severe sore throat that lasts more than a week, breathing problems, a fever higher than 101 Fahrenheit, or there’s blood in your saliva or phlegm, see your doctor.
Are your respiratory symptoms emergent? Find a TriStar ER near you.