How Spinal Cord Injuries Impact Breathing

Spinal cord injuries or SCIs do not only damage the spinal cord; they are also responsible for harm to other body systems, such as the circulatory and respiratory systems.  While we tend to think of SCIs in the context of loss of movement, as with a quadriplegic or paraplegic, many SCI victims suffer from difficulty breathing or performing other involuntary bodily functions.  Ultimately, this type of damage may have long-term consequences as severe as loss of movement or ability to walk.

How Do SCIs Impact the Respiratory System?

According to one recent study, respiratory impairment following an SCI is quite common, particularly in spinal cord injuries that involve cervical or neck trauma.  Many victims of SCIs suffer from respiratory impairments including:

  • Low lung volumes. Many SCI victims are simply not capable of breathing as deeply as before, which can lead to further medical issues.  Respiratory muscle weakness is particularly dangerous in the presence of any communicable respiratory illness such as COVID-19 or influenza.  If exposed to these viruses, an SCI victim with weak respiratory muscles could be at greater risk of serious harm or even death than a person without an SCI.
  • Early onset sleep disorders. While sleep apnea is fairly common for older adults, younger victims of SCIs may experience the onset of sleep disorders at a much earlier age.  Sleep apnea, as well as narcolepsy, are common side effects of disordered breathing brought on by spinal cord injury.
  • Persistent cough. Sometimes the issues surrounding an SCI are not fatal but are bothersome and life-altering.  Some SCI victims suffer from a persistent cough that is difficult to control.  This can lead to difficulty with bladder control and loss of sleep for victims as well as disruption for their families.  It can also lead to a chronically sore throat.

What Can Be Done for Victims of SCIs to Manage Respiratory Harm?

The good news is that, with early intervention, it is possible to control or even prevent some respiratory problems.  Following acute high cervical SCIs, tracheostomy and artificial ventilation may be necessary; these should be followed up with respiratory therapy to teach proper coughing techniques to assist in clearing the airways.

For less serious SCIs, respiratory therapy may be enough to control or prevent further deterioration of the airways.  Even when ultimate deterioration is impossible to avoid, it is still important to manage symptoms to keep the quality of life as high as possible for the SCI victim and his or her family.

If you have been the victim of a spinal cord injury, do not wait–call for help from an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that you recover all the damages to which you are entitled.  Barber & Associates has a long, proven record of helping victims of SCIs recover compensation to pay for ongoing medical expenses, increased living costs, and pain and suffering due to these injuries.  Give us a call today to learn more about how we can help you fight for your rights after a spinal cord injury.

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