"That asthma attack she had, scared me half to death." Partially restricted airways can be as frightening for the rescuer as they are for the patient. Respiratory distress is the result of a partially restricted airway. An airway can be restricted by swollen anatomy, by muscle spasm, or by a foreign body. In the case of a foreign body, if the person is unable to cough up the restriction but is still breathing, you're only intervention should be to keep the patient calm, encourage them to continue breathing and continue coughing, and wait for the ambulance. A foreign body obstruction that has completely blocked the airway will be discussed in the next section. Respiratory distress secondary to swollen anatomical parts can be the result of allergic reaction or some type of medical condition. Allergic reaction causes a "collection" of fluid in the lining of the airway which leads to a partial restriction. The medical conditions (which include asthma, bronchitis, croup [in children] and epiglottitis [in children]) may cause either a build up of fluid or a muscle spasm that leads to the same partial restriction. It is not so important that you know the cause of the restriction, but more important to understand that at the first aid level there isn't much that can be done to alleviate the problem. You need to keep the person calm and monitor their breathing. If they stop breathing, initiate rescue breathing (part of a CPR course.)
There is one other concern that needs to be addressed under the heading of respiratory distress. It's a condition referred to as "sleep apnea." This is not necessarily an emergent condition. It is one that usually develops over a long period of time, is more likely to affect males than females, and left untreated can lead to other more life threatening conditions. "Sleep apnea" (pronounced ap'-knee-ah,) in simple terms is a condition where the patient stops breathing during sleep. The change in blood chemistry, caused by the increase of carbon dioxide and the decrease in oxygen sets of series of reactions in motion. Patients (especially males) who snore excessively, are over weight, and/or have high blood pressure are prone to sleep apnea. If your sleeping partner tells you that you are snoring excessively (usually expressed as, "If you don't stop snoring, I'm going to smother you with your pillow,") you should consult with your doctor and determine if the problem is anatomical or medical.
Seizure, sometimes referred to a convulsions, can be the result of some medical conditions, head injury or poisoning. It can also be brought on, especially in children, by the sudden onset of high fever
Seizure can be as dramatic as global (Grand Mal) seizure where the patient is unable to control muscle tone. The limbs tremor, the body shakes, the eyes close, some utterances (moaning) may occur and the patient is unable to communicate. This may last for a couple of minutes. It is genuinely frightening to witness this type of seizure, because you are certain that the person is about to die. The seizure may actually cause them to stop breathing because the muscle tone in the respiratory system can not be controlled. As a result, they will first turn red, then blue, and then usually they become very still. Or seizure can be as quiet as a focal (Petit Mal) seizure where the patient may experience a tremor in one arm or a blank stare for a few seconds. It has been suggested that "day dreaming" may actually be the quietest form of petit mal seizure. A single grand mal seizure is not considered a life threat, and the first aider intervention should be to "protect" the patient, not control the seizure. Move furniture out of the way, provide padding between thrashing limbs and hard objects and protect the patient's head and airway. Do not restrain the patient, this will only cause further harm. Do not place anything in the patient's mouth. (It is a common, yet erroneous, belief that the patient can swallow their tongue during seizure.) When the seizure stops, protect the patient's airway, by positioning the head, and monitor the patient's breathing. If the patient stops breathing, or doesn't start breathing after the seizure stops, make certain that the head is in the proper position and administer rescue breathing as taught in a CPR class. If there is any possibility that this patient has sustained any neck injury, either during, at the onset of, or prior to the seizure, hyperextension of the neck is not advised. In that event, the rescuer is encouraged to use the Modified Jaw Thrust. A patient who experiences petit mal seizure should be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.