Open Accessibility Menu

Diagnosing Respiratory Issues: Signs It’s Time to See a Doctor

Breathing is something we often take for granted — until it no longer comes as easily as it used to. Our respiratory system is vital to our survival. Whether due to a cold, the flu or allergies, respiratory issues can make everyday activities much more difficult.

For most people with minor respiratory issues, home treatment is all that's needed. But, breathing difficulties also signify a severe condition, such as pneumonia or congestive heart failure. If you're having trouble breathing, seek medical attention to rule out any underlying causes.

Why Do I Have Trouble Breathing?

There are many possible reasons for having trouble breathing. In some cases, it may be related to problems with the lungs, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia

In other cases, heart issues, such as congestive heart failure, heart attack, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), can cause difficulty breathing. Other possible causes of difficulty breathing include allergies, anxiety or panic attacks, obesity and high altitude.

Treatments Available for Respiratory Issues and Difficulty Breathing

The treatment for difficulty breathing will depend on the underlying cause. Depending on the diagnosis, respiratory treatments may include:

1. Medication

Commonly prescribed respiratory medications include inhalers for asthma or COPD, antibiotics for pneumonia and oxygen therapy.

If a heart condition is causing you to have trouble breathing, you may also need medication to manage your condition, such as:

  • ACE inhibitors to help prevent fluid build-up in your lungs
  • Beta-blockers to slow and ease the strain on your heart
  • Diuretics to help reduce the amount of fluid in your body

2. Surgery or Other Procedures

In some cases, respiratory issues may require surgery or another type of procedure, such as a bronchoscopy, pleurodesis and lung volume reduction surgery.

3. Home Treatment

For many respiratory problems, home treatment is all that's needed to ease symptoms. Home treatment for respiratory issues may include:

  • Avoiding smoke, dust and other irritants
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Resting
  • Practicing relaxation techniques or deep breathing
  • Using a humidifier or taking a hot shower to help loosen mucus

When to Come for Treatment

If you're having breathing difficulties, it's important to seek medical attention to rule out any underlying causes. For respiratory emergencies, such as difficulty speaking or walking, blue lips or fingernails, or confusion, seek the nearest emergency room immediately.

For less severe respiratory problems, make an appointment to see your doctor if:

Current symptoms are getting worse

  • New symptoms develop, such as a fever, chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Having trouble managing your symptoms at home
  • History of respiratory problems, and you're not sure if your current symptoms are due to a respiratory problem or something else

Find Respiratory Relief with UF Health

Respiratory treatments available at UF Health Jacksonville can help you find relief. Our highly trained health care staff will work to develop a treatment plan that's right for you. Come to one of our three emergency and urgent care centers in Jacksonville, Fla., and we'll help you breathe easy again.