Kevin McQueen, MHA, RRT, director of respiratory care, sleep diagnostics, hyperbarics and wound care at University of Colorado Health, Colorado Springs.
Most respiratory illnesses share the same set of symptoms, making it difficult to determine if you have pneumonia, flu, vaping-related illness or the new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Many people recover with a little rest at home, fever reducers and fluids. But others progress to a dangerous point before they seek medical care. In fact, five of the 30 most common causes of death are related to lung diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
Individuals who notice a slow progression in their shortness of breath could contact their primary care provider or go to an urgent-care facility, though with the new coronavirus situation, it may be best to utilize telehealth if available.
If symptoms come on rapidly or are severe, seek care at a hospital emergency department. Key symptoms…
Respiratory distress. You may climb a flight of stairs and feel “winded,” or wheeze or grunt as you inhale and exhale. You might breathe better if you change positions, such as leaning forward. You may sweat but feel cool and clammy. Sometimes, air becomes trapped inside the lungs so you can’t take in a normal breath.
Significant shortness of breath. This usually is the key sign that a respiratory illness may be worsening to the dangerous level. Shortness of breath may worsen quickly—sometimes within hours. Stay aware of significant changes in your ability to complete normal daily activities. If you can usually walk several blocks or climb a flight of stairs without becoming winded but your illness makes you short of breath just walking across the room or if you can say only one or two words between breaths, you need medical care.
Signs of decreased oxygen levels. Rapid, shallow breathing or sharp pain when you breathe, especially associated with a bluish tinge in your fingertips or lips, could indicate low oxygen in your blood—seek medical attention.
Having an underlying medical condition, such as cardiovascular disease or lung disease or undergoing treatment for cancer, puts you at greater risk. It’s better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention should you start developing symptoms.