Yawning can signal lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Tiredness, whereby one doesn't breathe deeply or properly, can cause yawning. But, it can also signal deeper physiological causes such as lack of red blood cells, a weak heart or poor lung health. If a person feels hungry for air after mild exertion, walking or lifting a bag of groceries, an appointment with a doctor is a good idea. While all of us will occasionally yawn or feel the need to draw in a big, deep breath, constant yawning is a sure sign that something in one's lifestyle or health regime needs to improve.
Women who yawn a lot, have heavy menstrual cycles or look pale might need their iron levels checked. A deficiency in red blood cells because of low iron levels can easily be checked with a simple blood test. Low iron levels can also signal a sluggish thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism can trigger low iron in the blood, and low iron can cause an underactive thyroid in come cases. Too few red blood cells means the body isn't transporting enough oxygen to the cells. Breathing deeply is only a temporary fix.
If the heart cannot pump sufficient blood to supply oxygen to the body, breathlessness can result. Individuals who experience anxiety or panic attacks can feel so oxygen deprived, they believe they are having a heart attack. A physical exam that includes an electrocardiogram is important. Also, a patient needs to be screened for kidney problems or congestive heart failure. Anyone can feel starved for air If the brain, muscles or other body organs don't receive enough oxygen.
Airway obstruction in the nose, mouth or lungs can cause breathlessness. Swollen sinuses, enlarged tonsils or swelling in the bronchial tubes from allergies can block breathing. But asthma, diseased lungs or pneumonia are also common causes. Pulmonary deterioration due to smoking or exposure to asbestos or coal mining can decrease breathing capacity as well. In rare cases, a blood clot in the lung may be to blame. Serious lung problems can result in heart problems, since the heart will start to atrophy if the oxygen supply is depleted.
A patient with a hiatal hernia, for example, can feel shortness of breath. The enlarged bulge in the esophagus, while full of food, can displace the heart to some degree as it beats. This creates a strange sensation and a feeling of "heart problems." Also, acid reflux can interfere with proper breathing and cause shortness of breath temporarily. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for a patient with breathing problems to have inhaled a foreign object, such as a piece of food, or suffer from dust inhalation from the environment.
If lack of air causes you to awaken suddenly from sleep or you must sleep propped up to breathe properly, seek help. Sleep apnea may be the cause. Tightness in the chest, tightness in the throat, wheezing, aspiration (food or liquid inhaled into the lungs), prolonged difficulties in breathing, or swelling of the feet and hands all signal the need for an immediate medical evaluation.