Signs of Respiratory Distress

When we think of a medical emergency most assisted living professionals think of heart attack or a fall.  While those are serious concerns, with 15% of assisted living residents living with COPD, it is important that you and your staff are also prepared to identify and respond to respiratory distress.

Non-licensed staff should not perform an “assessment” of a resident, however, knowing these signs of respiratory distress can prepare you to respond before the condition worsens. ¬†Ohio State University lists the following signs and symptoms of respiratory distress:

  • Breathing rate
    An increase in the number of breaths per minute may indicate that a person is having trouble breathing or not getting enough oxygen.
  • Color changes
    A bluish color seen around the mouth, on the inside of the lips, or on the fingernails may occur when a person is not getting as much oxygen as needed. The color of the skin may also appear pale or gray.
  • Grunting
    A grunting sound can be heard each time the person exhales. This grunting is the body’s way of trying to keep air in the lungs so they will stay open.
  • Nose flaring
    The openings of the nose spreading open while breathing may indicate that a person is having to work harder to breathe.
  • Retractions
    The chest appears to sink in just below the neck and/or under the breastbone with each breath–one way of trying to bring more air into the lungs.
  • Sweating
    There may be increased sweat on the head, but the skin does not feel warm to the touch. More often, the skin may feel cool or clammy. This may happen when the breathing rate is very fast.
  • Wheezing
    A tight, whistling or musical sound heard with each breath may indicate that the air passages may be smaller (tighter), making it harder to breathe.

2 Responses to “Signs of Respiratory Distress”

  1. Thank you for keeping myself and my future staff abreast of the necessary changes and the importance of knowing what to look for, during Respiratory Distress. Thank you
    Andria Patricia Harris

  2. Thank you, Andrea! So glad our tips are a helpful resource for you.

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