Why am I having difficulty breathing? What causes it?

01 Mar Why am I having difficulty breathing? What causes it?

If you are having poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, headaches, tiredness, changes in your sense of humour, and your body mass index (BMI) is greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2; you should read this.

There is a condition called obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS) which is related to problems in breathing during night-time or even during daytime.

The term¬†hypoventilation¬†refers to inadequate breathing. It may result when the breaths are not of sufficient volume or when they do not occur frequently enough. According to Dr Bandron Peters is the condition that causes superficial breaths, he said: “Imagine only being able to fill your lungs half full. These superficial breaths would make it difficult to eliminate the carbon dioxide and take in the oxygen that you require. Furthermore, taking a breath less often than you need will quickly leave you feeling short of breath”. The hypoventilation that characterizes this condition may be due to a combination of these factors. This often occurs in patients who are overweight. The result is that breathing is inadequate to eliminate carbon dioxide, resulting in elevated levels in the blood.

The underlying causes of obesity hypoventilation syndrome are varied. It occurs when there is an inadequate exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This may be due in part to the physical limitations imposed on the lungs by obesity. Obstructive sleep apnoea can contribute by disrupting night-time breathing.

The good news is that there are effective treatment options available, including positive airway pressure therapy, weight reduction, and in some special patients, pharmacotherapy and/or oxygen.

If you think that you need help with your breathing, please ask your GP.


*Double board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist practising at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle

  • Botero, Fernando. Bather on the Beach Picture. Painting 2001.