Your lungs are a very important organ in your body. They allow you to breathe, drawing in oxygen which is later absorbed into your blood. Under normal conditions, your lungs provide you with all the oxygen you need for optimal health. In some cases, disease or chronic conditions can compromise your lung function. If your lungs aren't working as well as they should, you may feel like you can't breathe. Here are four steps you should take if you're experiencing shortness of breath:
1. Go to the hospital if you're having an emergency.
Shortness of breath is always a concern, but in some cases, it may be an emergency. If parts of your body are turning blue, it indicates a lack of oxygen, which is very serious. Without adequate oxygen, you could suffer permanent damage to your brain and other parts of your body. If your shortness of breath does not go away with rest, you should go to the hospital for emergency care.
2. Make a doctor's appointment.
If your shortness of breath is persistent but not life-threatening, you should make an appointment to see your doctor at your earliest convenience. Your doctor will perform a physical exam that can rule out some potential causes of your breathing problems. They will examine your airways to check for blockages and test you for respiratory infections that may be contributing to your problem. They may also ask you about your lifestyle since inactivity and smoking can both decrease your lung health.
3. Make lifestyle changes.
Your doctor will recommend that you change your lifestyle if you're partaking in habits that are damaging to your lungs. Smokers will be advised to cut back on smoking or, ideally, quit entirely. Making exercise a regular part of your life can improve your cardiovascular health, which can also improve lung function. Before starting a new exercise routine, make sure your doctor clears your intended activity. People with compromised lung function may be at risk during certain activities.
4. Submit to pulmonary function testing.
Pulmonary function testing is a painless test that measures how well your lungs work. You will be asked to breathe into a machine, which will measure the amount of air you inhale and exhale. It will also measure your blood oxygenation level, which will tell your doctor how efficiently your lungs are working. Pulmonary function testing can tell doctors whether your shortness of breath is psychosomatic or physical in origin. During your pulmonary function testing, your doctor may have you inhale medication typically used to treat asthma. If your lung function improves after breathing this medication, your doctor may diagnose you with asthma and devise an appropriate treatment plan.