Labored breathing is more than being out of breath--it can be an indication of something more serious and even life-threatening. Knowing the other symptoms that accompany labored breathing may help you identify the problem and save the life of a loved one. As with most medical conditions, if you experience labored breathing, seek medical attention immediately
Labored Breathing by Itself
Labored breathing is difficulty or pain when inhaling or exhaling, the feeling of not getting enough oxygen, tightness in the throat or chest when breathing or feeling an obstruction or lump in the throat that keeps air from getting to the lungs. There are a myriad of causes, from anaphylaxis to severe, acute asthma, and all are life-threatening conditions.
Asthma is an inflammation of the lining of the lungs that can result in labored breathing. You may be experiencing an asthma attack if you also have moist skin, irregular breathing or an inability to take a deep breath. Most asthma is treated by use of an inhaled steroid that reduces inflammation, but this only works in the early onset. With late onset, especially where labored breathing becomes stopped breathing, emergency medical attention is required.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder is a long-term disease that usually produces labored breathing, even in relatively low-impact exercise or activity. Often, labored breathing is accompanied by pain when exhaling and/or inhaling as well as a graying or sickly pallor of the skin (due to lack of oxygen). Someone with COPD may also have shortness of breath even when resting, which some consider labored breathing as well. COPD requires medical supervision to control it, and acute, severe attacks should be attended to immediately.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome is an unexplained shortness of breath and/or labored breathing that occurs in an otherwise healthy individual. People who experience ARDS will also begin to turn blue (cyanosis) at the lips and extremities because of the lack of oxygen. Often there is a crackling sound associated with this condition, and shock may set in.
In addition to labored breathing, the person suffering from croup may also have a very raspy sounding breath or a "barking" cough. Typically, croup sufferers also breathe abnormally during an episode, sometimes accompanying labored breathing or not. Croup is caused by a swelling of the vocal cords and is most prevalent in children and infants. Steam or humidifiers can often treat croup and relieve labored breathing, but in some cases, medication or other medical attention may be required.