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Can't breathe. No one will help.
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Can't breathe. No one will help.

28 yr. old female.

This is a recurring problem, it lasts for a few weeks to months, then goes away. I can't take in a full lungful of air, sometimes I can get a full breath every once in awhile, but sometimes I'm even forcing myself to yawn, which sometimes helps me get more air.

I would also be writing this off as anxiety or a panic attack. Except that panic attacks don't last for weeks, and this isn't just a 5 - 10 minute thing. It lasts all day, all night, every day until it decides to go away on it's own. (Though I do sleep through the night, it doesn't wake me up, I think I'm breathing. Don't think I have sleep apnea.)
Nothing extraordinary has happened in my life when it starts. I don't have depression, or anxiety, I'm a pretty calm and happy person. I have a good diet and I ride my bike almost everywhere.

I have been to the ER. I have been to urgent care. I've been to the regular doctor. They check the oxygen level in my blood with that index finger thing. It's normal. Normal blood pressure. Chest X-rays come back fine. They never do anything beyond this and they write me off as just a mental case every time, they throw xanex at me and tell me it's all in my head and that I'm making it worse by thinking about it. I take the xanex and I still can't breathe. No one bothers to try anything else.

Did I mention I have an HMO?

I don't know if this has anything to do with anything, but the last time this happened - after a few weeks, my lungs began to hurt. It was definitely from the strain of trying to fill them. Lung X-ray came up with nothing.

I hate saying this - but I've looked stuff up on the internet...of course. I have read things about 'vocal cord dysfunction'. When I mention this to the doctors, they say "it's highly unlikely", and don't do anything to even check if this might be a possibility. I don't know what tests there are for asthma - maybe that would have already shown in the basic tests?

I just want to know what else I should be asking to be tested for. Let's pretend anxiety and stress doesn't exist for a second.
No one will help me.
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12 Comments Post a Comment
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Avatar_m_tn
Hi, you ever had this test ? (they would have clamped your nose shut and had you inhale really deep and exhale as hard and long as you can four or five times into a spirometer hooked to a computer)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirometry
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Avatar_f_tn
No - I've never gotten that test. Thanks for sending that, I'll ask if I can get it. It seems that if I don't beg to get looked at more closely, they don't do anything.
I want to go back to the doctor knowing all of my options. They aren't offering them up freely.
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1097317_tn?1257383423
When you went to the hospital/doctor, did they tell you what your oxygen levels were?  Oh wait, I just read that they did..... Well, I've had a VERY similiar experience, where I just felt that I wasn't getting enough oxygen into my lungs.  I would FORCE myself to yawn just so I could feel myself breathing!  I know you said lets pretend anxiety doesn't exist BUT I have to tell you my experience.  I've been suffering with anxiety/panic attacks for almost 10 years... and this is one of the symptoms (sadly). Being unable to catch your breath, or feel like you are not getting enough oxygen into your lungs, or that you're not breathing and afraid you will die in your sleep.  I've since been put on xanax (highly addictive blah blah, but it makes me feel normal again). I haven't had the problem since.  Not saying that you do have anxiety or panic attacks but anxiety can go on and on an on, unlike panic attacks that are sudden, and then go away.  As you said... you feel fine for the most part, you exercise and eat right... but never rule out the possibility that it's anxiety.  Believe you me... anxiety does some crazy things and I've been in the hospital more than I can remember for various issues (chest pains/breathing problems/etc).... Is asthma a possibility? Otherwise.... please read about "anxiety and breathing problems".  Goggle it... Sorry I couldn't be of more help, maybe someone else with more experience could help but in my opinion... anxiety.
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1097317_tn?1257383423
Whoa, just re-read your post and see that you also were prescribed xanax.  What dosage were you prescribed?  I take 2mg and BAM... all issues gone.  Maybe they didn't give you a high enough dosage?  Asthma... allergies to pets? uhmmm... I'm trying to think of anything right now... You may need to see another doctor, and hopefully get some more advice from knowlegable users on this site.  Good luck!!!!! and keep us posted.
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Avatar_m_tn
Your welcome, it's kind of the gold standard test for anyone with chronic dyspnea (difficulty breathing). I can understand them not sending you to a pulm lab for comprehensive function tests , but they should have at least had a respiratory therapist (RT) give you a portable spirometry test. It's a hand held spirometer hooked to a lab top computer that can be done in the clinic or emergency room or where ever. If they keep giving you the run around you should just ask to see a pulmonologist or see if you can get into one on your own.

One way of checking your oxygen saturation while sleeping is an overnight pulse oximetry test. You just take a pulse oximeter home with you, and put the sensor on your finger and turn it on when your ready to go to bed. It has to be on for at least six hours though and then you mail it back to them or drop it off which ever is more convenient. But that's something a pulm doc would send home with you, I don't know if you would have much luck getting it from a GP. If there was an abnormality though they would recommend you go to a sleep lab for more testing.

Xanex depresses respiration some depending on how much you take, I don't know how they think thats supposed to help you if your not hyperventilating from panic attacks. Having you try some different inhalers would make more sense to me, that's another reason your probably better off just getting into see a pulmonologist, they would just throw xanex at you and tell you to go away.

I hope you can get things straightened out.
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1097317_tn?1257383423
sorry to keep posting over and over... one more thought came to mind.  Possible Sinus Issues? Sinus Congestion?  That will definately make it hard for one the breathe!  
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1097317_tn?1257383423
I can almost bet my life on it, it's anxiety related.  Not a panic attack!......Anxiety.  I've had the same symptoms, and it all went away once I was put on an anti-anxiety med.  Your advice was GREAT, but I'm just saying from personal experience.... and years of suffering with SOB... It all turned out to be anxiety!

xoXOxo
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942934_tn?1268111982
Well, having done more spirometry tests then one would have liked, I would say that is the easiest test to be done to rule out any lung disorders. And no I dont agree with handing out inhalers like they are candy. Another thing that can be done to track symptoms is to use a peak flow meter and measure your readings twice a day for 2 weeks. This will show if there is any variability in breathing obstruction that is present in asthma. But as a severe asthmatic I don't know struggle to breath everyday and still be able to do everything. Physically impossible. If a lung disorder, physical exertion would cause shortness of breath. But shortness of breath all day without severe physical limitations is not possible.

I have to agree with the above post that some people become chronic hyperventpilators, as they become aware of their own breathing for whatever reason. It's called over breathing, and frequent yawning is quite common. This is a diagnosis of exclusion, so follow up with your doctor, do a lung function test to rule out/in and serious disorders, before considering on how to deal with chronic over breathing.
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942934_tn?1268111982
Oh forgot to mention, get a CT Scan, as some lung disorders can't initially be picked up by spirometry, such as bronchiecstasis. But for that one you would have to be coughing up mucous daily as your main symptom.
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Avatar_m_tn
She says she doesn't suffer from chronic anxiety, xanex doesn't help, and she's clearly fed up with doctors writing it off as anxiety. Are you guys sure you read her post ? She also didn't say that she's like Lance Armstrong out there on her bike, maybe she has to go really slow and take a lot of breaks to catch her breath when she's having a relapse, how do we know. Inhalers with corticoid steroids shouldn't be given out like candy, but a bronchdilator alone for a short time for someone that has chronic dyspnea is okay I think. Doctors hand out far worse things ( e.g. xanex ).They usually give you albuterol when you go to a pulm lab for pft's.
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942934_tn?1268111982
Like I said, chronic hyperventillation is a diagnosis of "EXCLUSION" only. You must go through thorough testing before such a diagnosis can be made. If I were you, would definitely get a CT-scan, and do a test for exercise induced asthma. They can measure your reduction in lung function while you are exercising with spirometry. If you have more then a 20% drop, then you are considered to have exercise induced asthma.
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Avatar_m_tn
I think these gals gave you excellent advise. I would just warn you about the amount of pigeonholing that goes on in the (w)health care system. If an anxiety disorder causing symptoms really was a diagnosis of exclusion that would be great, but most times it's not. It's more like keep declining until your sick enough that we have to take this more seriously. My advise is even if you do experience anxiety, depression, any other mental illness, never bring it up to doctors at clinics, go to an independent psychitrist or counseling service. You have to keep the two completely separate I think. Once you utter the words anxiety or depression to your clinic docs you will be permanently stereotyped. Getting your self a Pulmonologist is your best hope I think for your breathing problems. Take care
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