Why Do I Have Trouble Breathing When I Put My Hands Over My Head?


Asked by Linda Laughlin

When I Raise My Hands Over My Head (To Dry My Hair Etc,) I Have Difficulty Breathing, Is This Asthma

I was diagnoised with asthma 2 years ago. After also being treated for acid reflux (due to stomach ulcers), it completely went away for over a year. The tightness is chest, wheezing, short of breath & rapid breathing & heart rate slowly began to return. When I raise my arms in the morning to dry my hair, etc. my breathing becomes rapid and difficult. Sometimes I have to stop and rest. Also, sometimes when I turn a certain way, or bend over, symtoms suddenly occur. Is this caused from asthma or another illness? I am a 54 year old woman in other wise good health. I walk every evening, practice simple yoga, and do not smoke, I am not overweight, and my blood pressure is excellent. I never had an asthma problem until the last few years.


Hi LL, you should have your medical doctor examine you at the earliest possibility. We cannot diagnose conditions online. Many more questions, a physical exam and possibly special tests (lung function test, chest x-ray, blood test, tests for acid reflux and/or echocardiogram) may be needed for an accurate assessment, which is why you must see your doctor.

That said, it is possible that the breathing difficulty associated with raising your hands over your head is related to asthma but this would be very unusual as an only trigger. I would expect such an association to be confined to someone with moderate to severe asthma which means there would likely be other signs of poorly controlled asthma. Some of these signs include night time awakening with asthma symptoms, shortness of breath after minimal activities (for example walking a short distance or after one flight of stairs) or limitations in performing daily tasks at home, work or school.

You mentioned other worsening symptoms which have returned (rapid heart rate, rapid breathing etc.). These symptoms may be related to asthma, but may also be associated with heart and blood vessel disorders. On the other hand, asthma may not be the cause of your difficult breathing at all. Perhaps there is a musculoskeletal problem (something wrong with the relationship of your shoulder and upper chest muscles to the attached bone and joint structures). Maybe a fume from the dryer is irritating your lungs. Worsening acid reflux (or a combination of these disorders) is possible. Heart related problems, as mentioned, cannot be ruled out.

It takes more energy than one might think to keep their hands and arms above the head especially if an object is being held or moved around, but I think the shortness of breath in your case signals a problem that warrants further address. Again, get checked out as soon as you can. Please post a follow-up comment after you have your answer. Good Luck!

J. Thompson, MD

You should know: The answer above provides general health information that is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment recommendations from a qualified healthcare professional.