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"Why did I wake up last night and not be able to breathe?"

ZocdocAnswersWhy did I wake up last night and not be able to breathe?


Woke up and couldn't catch my breath. Happened in the middle of the night. Eventually went away and went back to sleep. What happened??


The episode you describe sounds like it could be several things, including nocturnal asthma or possible sleep apnea. Waking up short of breath in the middle of the night is definitely not a normal occurrence, so you should see your doctor as soon as possible for a history and exam. Your physician should be able to go over your symptoms in more detail and determine if additional testing is need to investigate a diagnosis of asthma, sleep apnea, or even something else based upon your exam. Although asthma is most often associated as a disease of childhood, it can present in adults and it can present as nocturnal waking. Your doctor will want to know if you had any wheezing, if anything made the shortness of breath get better, and if you have any other symptoms lately (sneezing, watery eyes, tightness in the chest). Sleep apnea is growing more and more common in the United States and can be caused by several factors, including a large body habitus or excess soft tissue in the back of the throat. People with sleep apnea will actually stop breathing for short periods of time which results in a drop in their oxygen levels. This hypoxia causes the patient to start breathing again, but often in a gasp. It could be that one of these 'gasps' woke you up. It is important for your overall health to get to the bottom of what is causing this, so you should see your doctor right away!

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