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Asthma

Asthma-Related Yawning

04/09/2010

Question:

Hi, For the past year or so I have noticed that my yawns are almost never typical. Rather than my mouth opening and air going out/in my yawns are quite different. It starts off with the sensation to yawn followed by my mouth opening and closing a couple of times. While I am doing this it is almost like I am trying to take in deep breath and it is uncontrollable. While doing this the sensation of popping my ears is usually accompanied. I often do these special yawns at random times and they are noticeable most of the time. Kids in my school can normally hear and see the motions and noises being made. On one occasion my teacher thought I was hyperventilating. Can you think of any problems or causes associated with these special yawns? I have been told it my be a mild form of asthma but I am not sure. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Answer:

There is still a great deal of debate in the medical literature regarding why people yawn.  One theory is that yawning helps trigger alertness (hence occurs when the brain realizes you're getting sleepy.)  Another, recently more popular, theory is that yawning helps change the brain circulation in a way that cools it - and yawns are triggered by increases in body/brain temperature.  Older theories suggested that maybe a lack of oxygen or excessive carbon dioxide triggered yawning - these theories have generally been disproved. 

There is no clear link between asthma and yawning, so taking more or different asthma medication is not likely going to improve the yawning issue.  Patients with asthma can have problems with nasal obstruction, snoring, and obstructive apnea which can lead to daytime fatigue - and yawning.  There are some articles that link yawning and hyperventilation - perhaps connecting an unnecessary urge to get more air (when your body doesn't need it.)

None of this addresses your concern about "atypical" yawning.  I did not find anything in the literature that addresses this particular concern.  If you've had problems in the past with recurrent involuntary muscle movements, or if tic disorders run in the family, the unusual yawns you describe might be from a tic disorder. 

If this symptom is frequent and becoming a burden, I would recommend further evaluation - starting with your primary care doctor.  If you have the opportunity to videotape a "spell", that may be helpful to the practitioner who sees you.


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Response by:

Elizabeth D Allen, MD Elizabeth D Allen, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University