Meaning of “Short of Breath”

How to know when to worry about coronavirus symptoms:

  • Remember it’s still cold and flu season so you most likely have something else, not coronavirus.  This may change in the next few weeks if we don’t “flatten the curve” (see other posts) but for the time being, many people have other viruses.
  • If you only have symptoms in your head (runny nose, cough, normal headaches), you are probably fine.  If you think you have a sinus infection or ear infection, I can treat that via virtual visit.
  • If you have some chest congestion (like with influenza) but you can breath, walk up and down stairs, and talk in complete sentences, please monitor your situation but don’t worry excessively because you’ll probably be fine.  We can do a virtual visit to monitor your symptoms and decide if you need more care.  If you are in a high risk group (60 and over, with serious chronic medical conditions, etc) then please have a lower threshold to go to the hospital.  People in these groups can get dramatically worse over the course of hours.
  • Anxiety can make it hard to take a deep breath, which can then increase your anxiety.  So if you think you may be short of breath, first check your anxiety level.  Were you breathing fine while watching a movie or chatting with a friend and then started thinking about coronavirus and found it hard to take a deep breath?  Try some belly breathing (in through your nose and expanding your belly as round as you can, then make an “ssssssss” through your teeth as you bring your tummy in…it took me about a week of practice to learn how to do it correctly so keep practicing!)  Or just distract yourself for a bit, get a snack, etc.  If you can chew and swallow food (which requires holding your breath) without getting more short of breath, you’re probably more anxious than anything.
  • Lots of people don’t know how to tell if someone has respiratory distress.  Having a stuffy nose or post nasal drip can give you the sensation of being short of breath even though your lungs are working just fine.  The question is whether your LUNGS are having trouble breathing.  Breathing that is fast and labored (heavy) and prevents someone from being able to walk around doing their usual activities or talk in complete sentences requires immediate medical attention so if that’s happening, please go to the ER.  When you go to the ER please cover your nose and mouth with a scarf if you don’t have a mask until you’re able to get a mask there unless covering your face it makes it too difficult to breathe.  Tell the nurse exactly what symptoms you’re having so they understand how serious it it.
  • The vast majority of people with coronavirus will be just fine and have mild symptoms so if that happens to you, your only job is to not share the germs.  Many people with cold and flu symptoms will still just have a cold or flu because we were still in the thick of a pretty bad cold and flu season.  So remember, there’s a good chance your symptoms are not coronavirus.  And if they are, you will probably be fine.
  • If you are in the high risk groups (pregnant, on immunosuppresive medications, over the age of 60, with a history of diabetes or coronary artery disease or COPD), please stay home if at all possible.  Have someone do your grocery shopping for you or go at 6am when the stores are deserted.  But remember, even in the high risk groups, the mortality rate is as bad as 15%, which means 85% survive.  Nearly everyone has good odds.  Obviously, 100% survival would be a lot better, which is why we should all be doing everything we can to stop this from spreading (see other posts).  But many people are imagining that half the population will be wiped out.  While 15% is absolutely terrible, it’s not 50%.  So long as we can flatten the curve and not overwhelm hospitals, the majority of people with this will survive.

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