Medical Specialty >> Pulmonology

Doctors Lounge - Pulmonology Answers

Back to Pulmonology Answers List

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Doctors Lounge ( does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her physician. Please read our 'Terms and Conditions of Use' carefully before using this site.

Date of last update: 10/19/2017.

Forum Name: Chest symptoms

Question: "gasping" for air

 bradensmom14 - Sat Mar 28, 2009 12:44 am

For the last week I've been "gasping" for air. It's like I forget to breath..The first couple days was just few times throughout the day. Now it's like every few minutes, several times an hour. I'll either take a real deep breath or a big loug gasp. Everyone has been looking at me and asking me what is going on with me. My family is all noticing. I've also been having the muscles in my chest feel really sore, I'm pretty sure its from doing all of these deep breaths in. I also when I cough will get dizzy and have had increased heart palpatations. I had pleurisy about a month or so ago. Could this be due to this? I also am going to be having testing for autonomic neuropathy due to some other problems I've had. So, not sure if this could be the cause. This is not a diagnosis as of yet, however one tests has shown peripheral neuropathy. My main question is should I be concerned about the breathing issues? They just seem to be getting worse not better. I did hook myself up to my sons pulse ox last night and the respiratory rate kept alarming, however my O2 stayed within 95-96 range. But, today is was 97-98, which I know is normal. Could I simply just be "forgetting" to breath? Thanks for any help!!!
 John Kenyon, CNA - Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:44 pm

User avatar Hi there --

What you're experiencing is fairly common, but people are often loathe to discuss it. Once one is made aware of one's own breathing, either due to physical problems or emotional/anxiety ones, it is very difficult to stop monitoring one's breathing, and this leads to some very conscious and so very faulty patterns which can lead to increased anxiety,gasping, hyperventilation syndrome (lightheadedness, dizziness, tingling and numbness in the fingers and in the lips and around the mouth, even sometimes in the anterior chest) and leads to more of the same. This kind of situation can also lead to very sore chest wall muscles, especially upon deep breathing, as well as tightness of those muscles (tetany due to hyperventilation). Worse yet, the unwitting hyperventilation causes the victim to throw off more carbon dioxide, the very thing that causes the brain to send the diaphragm and lungs the message to breathe in! When too much CO2 is thrown off this way, the signal to breathe is lost temporarily (even though ultimately breathing is voluntary it is mainly habitual) so, in a sense, yes, you can (or your brain can) "forget" to breathe. Of course, once the CO2 balance is restored the signal comes back quickly, and since by then the brain actually needs some O2, the next breath is gasping in nature, since it feels as though one has somehow "forgotten" to breathe. It is a vicious cycle that can be dificult to break, but it can be broken.

Complicating this is the fact that you may have some peripheral neuropathy causing dysautonomia, so that the "Breathe" signal is more easily lost from moment to moment.This is not dangerous but can be terribly distressing. The results are pretty much identical to those of anxiety-based hyperventilation. It's incredibly annoying. As you've noticed by checking, your room air O2 saturation remains normal (95-100 is perfectly normal and when very relaxed or during hyperventilation the sats can actually drop lower. When this happens during relaxation or sleep, in the absence of anxiety, there are generally no symptoms at all except yawning, which is the normal response).

You're not literally forgetting to breathe, but are throwing off the CO2 balance, which, as I explained earlier, feels as though one is forgetting. It's actually just a confusion of the brain itself, caused by a too-acute awareness of breathing, unless it is caused by dysutonomia secondary to peripheral neuropathy. Generally the result is the same, and sometimes anti-anxiety medication or cognitive behavioral therapy will help "cure" the problem.

I hope this is helpful to you. Do your best to relax, look into formal programs for dealing wtih this very common problem, and please follow up with us here as needed. Good luck to you!

| Check a doctor's response to similar questions

Are you a Doctor, Pharmacist, PA or a Nurse?

Join the Doctors Lounge online medical community

  • Editorial activities: Publish, peer review, edit online articles.

  • Ask a Doctor Teams: Respond to patient questions and discuss challenging presentations with other members.

Doctors Lounge Membership Application

Tools & Services: Follow DoctorsLounge on Twitter Follow us on Twitter | RSS News | Newsletter | Contact us