Mysterious shortness of breath

Posted by gabrielm @gabrielm, May 31, 2018

I will try to make this as short as possible, but this has been going on for over 5 years, so it might be farily long. 

Beginning in summer of 2012, I began having shortness of breath (SOB) with no other symptoms. I felt a constant need to yawn, and every few breaths wouldn't satisfy the SOB. I would take a deep breath, and felt like it would get "stuck" before satisfying the air hunger feeling. About every 3-5 deep breaths would satisfy it, only for it to return a minute later. 

I got an endoscopy and other tests done, which revealed that I had some esophageal erosion due to acid reflux and a slight hiatal hernia and was diagnosed with GERD. I had always have bad heartburn, so I was prescribed with Prilosec, which I have been taking daily since them. I've tried stopping it a few times but the reflux always comes back a lot worse. 

Lung tests and x-rays were normal. Heart tests normal. Blood test revealed a slight anemia but otherwise pretty normal. 

I did some research reading forums where someone suggested taking vitamin B-12. Strangely, I took it and the SOB disappeared almost instantly. However, it only lasted a few days for it to return just as bad. I then started taking an iron supplement, which again made the SOB disappear quickly- same thing; symptom returned days later. 

After further research, I came across a breathing exercise method called the Buteyko method. Essentially you do a lot of breath holding to build up CO2 and reduce breathing as the theory is that I had chronic hyperventilation causing too much CO2 to exit my body. After applying the method and reducing my breathing, the SOB disappeared after only 2 days and I felt completely normal. I continued the method a few more days then no longer felt the need to pursue the exercises. I was normal for a whole year when the SOB once again returned with some chest tightness. I applied the method again and the symptom went away, this time with a little more effort; after about 3 weeks. I included physical exercise which also helped with my breathing. 

After that, I was normal for about 2 years. I mistakenly stopped or at least slowed down exercise and the SOB returned once again. I applied the method and began running for exercise but the SOB kept getting worse. It got so bad, I had multiple panic attacks and the feeling of completely empty lungs with the inability to satisfy it with deep breaths. I had to stop exercise altogether, apply the Buteyko method and do breathing exercises very carefully with very light and slow exercise. This helped, but it took many weeks for the SOB to improve. Then, it was almost normal when over a year ago as I was running, I couldn't get a deep breath to satisfy exercise-induced SOB. I have had SOB continuously since then (a year and a half). 

I once again started doing breathing exercises and slowly building up physical exercise, but I can't do any prolonged cardio activity because the SOB gets to a point where deep breathing will not satisfy it. While the breathing exercises have helped, they have had very little effect compared to previous efforts. It seems that every time the symptom returned, greater effort yields few results.

I suspect there is something, some underlying cause that is causing the SOB that has alluded me this entire time. 

So for the past few months to a year, the SOB is worse on some days, better on others, but never gone. There's no rhyme or reason or pattern for it. It's just there, sometimes affecting my sleep. I sometimes can't get a deep breath to satisfy it every now and then, but for the most part, a big gulp of air will satisfy it. But it returns seconds to minutes later. It's as though every breath doesn't deliver what it's supposed to, the SOB builds up, and then I have to take a big gulp of air to get rid of the feeling, pattern repeats. My breathing pattern is normal, however. I don't feel like anything physical is happening, but sometimes it feels like my airways and nostrils are slightly inflamed due to allergies, but when I don't feel inflammation the SOB is still there. 

Recent lung function tests show normal- I don't have asthma, or any other problems with my lungs. Heart tests are normal though I did have about a two week bout of heart palpitations which came and went. Haven't had any for a while- it just mysteriously started happening then stopped. Blood tests are normal, though tests always show a slight elevation of biliruben which my doc thinks is Gilbert's disease. 

I don't have sleep apnea (normal test), bloody oxygenation is normal, heart rate normal. 

I recently saw local naturopath (since mainstream docs aren't able to help) who immediately suspected a liver problem when I described my SOB, possibly liver inflammation. He used an electrodermal testing machine to test his theory which did seem to show a problem with my liver and gallbladder. He gave me digestive enzymes and a gallbladder formula to help clear a bile duct clog, thus reducing liver inflammation. He also determined with the machine that I have an egg sensitivity so I've been avoiding eggs. 

Been taking this and avoiding eggs for a couple of months, but there has been no noticeable improvement. Everything else is normal. Emotionally I'm normal- no anxiety, depression, etc. The SOB seems to be the only symptom of something, but always comes back worse, until a year and half ago when it came back and has remained since. I feel like I shouldn't have to do breath holding exercises every day just to maintain my breathing well enough to do every day things. 

Does anyone have any idea of a possible underlying cause?

Well Im glad I came across this post because I experience the exact same condition. I find myself constantly yawning, not being able to breathe normally through my nose. Sometimes I have to yawn a couple of times to get that satisfying breathe and then minutes later start over again. I have been like this since about June 2020, so its been 5 months. It led me to having anxiety attacks/panic attacks and some emergency dept. visits. EKGs normal, Oxygen levels normal, Lungs sound good, allergy tests negative. I can't do tough exercise because I feel my SOB and my heart starts beating in my chest. I got tired of doctors and just stopped going hoping it will eventually go away, but I don't know :(. If anyone reads this please reply something, its really frustrating and I feel so helpless.

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@itsnotanxiety

Hi all! Just thought I would share my experince with this, I've been experincing this (air hunger and yawning constantly) since November of 2019 after getting a very unusal cold. I have spent thousands on going to doctors, and no conclusive answers other than throwing me anti anxiety medications (which I haven't taken because I strongly doubt it's anxiety related). And have seen congnitive behavior therapists to no avail sadly. The weird part is it only occurs when I'm awake, it doesn't effect my sleep. I'm at my ends on trying to figure out what exactly is wrong with me.

Reading through older posts in this thread I have tried antacid medicine to maybe see if that would work and I found some relief, but what's even more releaving is knowing i'm not going insane and that other people have this same unexplanable feeling as me.

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I feel yah, mine doesn't affect my sleep either. I almost feel like right when I wake up I kinda have some slight relief where I don't struggle as much to catch a satisfying breath, but throughout the day it has moments where it gets better and worse throughout the day.

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@hollyhedge1

Well Im glad I came across this post because I experience the exact same condition. I find myself constantly yawning, not being able to breathe normally through my nose. Sometimes I have to yawn a couple of times to get that satisfying breathe and then minutes later start over again. I have been like this since about June 2020, so its been 5 months. It led me to having anxiety attacks/panic attacks and some emergency dept. visits. EKGs normal, Oxygen levels normal, Lungs sound good, allergy tests negative. I can't do tough exercise because I feel my SOB and my heart starts beating in my chest. I got tired of doctors and just stopped going hoping it will eventually go away, but I don't know :(. If anyone reads this please reply something, its really frustrating and I feel so helpless.

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@hollyhedge1– I'm glad that you have found us too, Holly, welcome. Solving the cause of SOB or dyspnea is indeed a challenge to a lot of us. It's scary and frustrating and makes us feel just like you do. But you need to keep plugging ahead and find your cause or learn how to control it. I encourage you to read as many posts as you can to see what others have tried and found helpful.

Have you seen A GI doctor to rule out GERD, which many of us have that can cause SOB? Has a pulmonologist administered any lung tests?

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@merpreb

@hollyhedge1– I'm glad that you have found us too, Holly, welcome. Solving the cause of SOB or dyspnea is indeed a challenge to a lot of us. It's scary and frustrating and makes us feel just like you do. But you need to keep plugging ahead and find your cause or learn how to control it. I encourage you to read as many posts as you can to see what others have tried and found helpful.

Have you seen A GI doctor to rule out GERD, which many of us have that can cause SOB? Has a pulmonologist administered any lung tests?

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I haven’t seen a GI dr or a Pulmonologist, but I will definitely begin trying out Doctors again.

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@itsnotanxiety

Hi, Colleen! I have tried Buteyko Breathing that was mentioned earlier in the post (in the past) and that works but at the same time make's me feel like this problem is in control of my life. I mentioned seeing a cognitive behavior therapist who tried hypnosis and a method called EFT tapping to reduce anxiety all of which has worked for a tempory amount of time or who know's it could've just been a placebo effect. I have noticed throughout these months my sinues feel always clogged even though they're not which might be something related. I may just try the SSRI's (Zoloft) and see if I feel any difference even though I doubt they'll work. I'm at the point where it's almost been a year and I'm willing to try just about anything.

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I have also noticed my sinuses feeling sort of…swollen. Like I’m stuffy, but no congestion. I can only assume it’s swelling.

However, I take Claritin and Flonase, and those don’t really help. I’ve also taken Zoloft in the past, taking Wellbutrin now (already diagnosed with depression), and that doesn’t help.

About a week and a half ago, it suddenly went away. I had started taking Prilosec, so I hoped I had figured it out. But it started again just as suddenly, two days ago.

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@anrw2018– Good morning. Have you seen an allergy specialist? Sometimes at this time of year allergies abound. Many states are still warm despite the date. Where I live in southern RI we are very warm with no frost yet.

I can't take Flonase. It gives me headaches. Also after a while of continuous use nose sprays can backfire and give you symptoms that it's supposed to help. Have you ever considered stopping the spray?

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@anrw2018 have you ever tried using a neti pot? Here is some information about it if you are not familiar: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/neti-pot/faq-20058305

I had the same feeling you are explaining with my last pregnancy and this helped me considerably, especially since taking medications wasn't a route I wanted to go down. I also have several friends with allergies who swear by daily, sometimes 2x daily, use to relieve symptoms.

Have you heard of or tried a neti pot?

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@amandajro

@anrw2018 have you ever tried using a neti pot? Here is some information about it if you are not familiar: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/expert-answers/neti-pot/faq-20058305

I had the same feeling you are explaining with my last pregnancy and this helped me considerably, especially since taking medications wasn't a route I wanted to go down. I also have several friends with allergies who swear by daily, sometimes 2x daily, use to relieve symptoms.

Have you heard of or tried a neti pot?

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I’ve heard of them, but never used them. I thought they were just for congestion?

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Hey everyone, wanted to update.

So, now I have been on Lexapro for four months and I feel great. Noticed I only do the breathing thing if I think about it or feel particularly anxious. It doesn't bother me anymore and I feel like I can live again. I am at 30 weeks and two days with my pregnancy. Due for my csection December 28th.

I do have some worries with the anesthesia required for it but prayerfully waiting for the day we get to meet our baby girl.

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@qbug

Hey everyone, wanted to update.

So, now I have been on Lexapro for four months and I feel great. Noticed I only do the breathing thing if I think about it or feel particularly anxious. It doesn't bother me anymore and I feel like I can live again. I am at 30 weeks and two days with my pregnancy. Due for my csection December 28th.

I do have some worries with the anesthesia required for it but prayerfully waiting for the day we get to meet our baby girl.

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@qbug– Thank you for updating us. I know that anesthesia for deliveries can be quite concerning. Did you Obgyn explain about the drugs that they use for this and safety? Is there a reason for the C section over a vaginal delivery?

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@tonyagregg

@gabrielm @merpreb I alo can do intense exercise and feel good while doing it. It actually started when I started running and I thought I just I was deconditioned but months later I am still trying to catch a deep breath. My oxygen level is good as well as my EKG and pulmonary function test all normal! I am 43 in good heath and never have I had any heartburn or problems with reflux nor do i have allergies. I am constant yawning or trying to get that deep breth that only last for 30sec or so. I guess i wouldnt call it SOB its just that I have the need to fill my lungs up by yawning or sighing. I read about psedodyspnea and it bascially talks about anexity and reflux and again I dont have. I am happy at my place in life. I just dont understand why all of a sudden this started. Is it a neuro thing i wonder at times? I have tried breathing txs and that does nothing. I guess I can live with it but at times its annoying and I just want it to go away. I am on no meds and have a health lifestyle. I would like to keep in touch with you guys just in case there is a miracle answer. Thanks for listening

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Hi Tonya, I’m experiencing the same thing. This has been happening for the last three months. I woke up from sleep at 4am unable to get that deep breath. Never happened to me before and I’ve been dealing with this inability to get that deep breath unless I do shallow breaths so it’s completely messed up my normal breathing. I’ve seen every dr from 2 diff pulmonologists to allergists to dermos to two diff general practitioners to An ent. They all say I’m normal (Bloodwork, mri and ct scan all indicate no issue) and seem to think it’s anxiety. But I’m actually less stressed then ever before with the exception of my concerns about Covid. I do have allergies to dust mites but not where I’m sneezing all the time kind of thing. My nose gets stuffy and runs here and there. I am exhausted from this issue. Have you gotten any relief??

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Also, every time I yawn I can’t yawn because I can’t take a deep breath. Does this mean I’m taking too many breaths or breathing in too much air and not exhaling deeply enough meaning I’m hyperventilating? I’m so so confused.

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@merpreb

@qbug– Thank you for updating us. I know that anesthesia for deliveries can be quite concerning. Did you Obgyn explain about the drugs that they use for this and safety? Is there a reason for the C section over a vaginal delivery?

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I plan on speaking to my OB next appointment about my concerns. I have to have csections, I have exceeded the amount to safely have a VBAC.

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@jduffy

Also, every time I yawn I can’t yawn because I can’t take a deep breath. Does this mean I’m taking too many breaths or breathing in too much air and not exhaling deeply enough meaning I’m hyperventilating? I’m so so confused.

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@jduffy– Welcome to Mayo Clinic Connect. It might mean that you are hyperventilating. Have you tried any techniques to quiet it, if it is hyperventilation? Youtube has a vast number of videos that show you how to treat it.

GERD often causes shortness of breath (dyspnea). Have you seen a GI doctor yet?

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The first time I experienced this was when I was about 19 years old and going through a really stressful time. It was worse when lying still or sitting– no distractions. I have done it off and on over the years. I am now 57 and going through it again. I have noticed that odd things like Yoga or stretches can trigger it for me (at least the last time I thought the two were connected). This time I know I am stressed, a little depressed, and here I am again trying to get a satisfying breath. I end up getting irritated and angry about it, which could make it worse. I'm glad you posted your story and I'm glad I'm not alone. Honestly, I feel like its some version of hyperventilation, but not dramatic.

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