Category:Breathing problems

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When we think "Breathing problems", we tend to think "Shortness of breath". Shortness of breath is a sensation when the brain thinks it is running out of oxygen. It may be right! The commonest cause of shortness of breath is, of course, exercise. One expects to become short of breath with exercise. This is normal. However, if only a mild increase in activity results in shortness of breath, then this is clearly not normal and one would have to think of major organ problems, such as poor cardiac output (heart failure), respiratory failure (poor lung function), or anaemia, i.e. not enough blood to carry nutrients around the body.

The sensation of being short of breath, however, can also be due to Hyperventilation. In asthma there is a perceived shortness of breath, but it is only in the very late and very serious stages of asthma that this shortness of breath is due to low oxygen levels. In the early stages of asthma, hyperventilation is the norm and this explains why many cases of asthma are successfully treated with Buteyko therapy.

Wheezing and narrowing of the airways is a protective reflex to make the air flowing through the airways more turbulent. This causes any viruses or particles in the air to get stuck onto the mucus lining the lungs, be coughed up, swallowed and be destroyed by stomach acid. See Hypochlorhydria. So cough can result from any problems in the airways associated with allergy, infection, or Inflammation.

Chest pain points to inflammation in the chest, which can be caused by infection or allergy, by physical damage such as collapsed lung, fractured rib, or ischaemia, i.e. poor blood supply which manifests as angina. Angina may be caused by poor blood supply, or poor mitochondrial function in the heart (when the heart cannot convert fuel and oxygen into a usable form of energy).

Stridor is noisy high pitched breathing which whistles when you breathe in and when you breathe out. This indicates narrowing of the upper airway and is potentially dangerous – it may be due to acute infection with epiglottitis (high fever and dribbling), or acute allergy (Anaphylaxis - recognition and treatment) or swelling of the vocal cords (croup). Always take this seriously! Consult a doctor urgently and if not available, go to hospital. Croup is often caused by dairy allergy.

Hoarse voice is caused by the vocal cords changing shape. Lots of possible reasons such as Hypothyroidism - diagnosis of voice abuse, Singer’s nodes, viral infection. But the worrying cause is a tumour, so if the hoarseness does not resolve in two weeks (especially in a smoker), an urgent ENT appointment is needed. Hoarseness can also be caused by allergy and hypothyroidism.

Other respiratory symptoms such as cough are often due to irritations within the lung, but gastro-oesophageal reflux can certainly present with cough - see Heartburn - at last I have sussed out why this is such a common problem - as indeed can allergy. Coughing blood is a symptoms which always needs taking seriously and investigating as a matter of urgency.

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