What Causes Excessive Yawning?

What Causes Excessive Yawning?

Overview of yawning

Yawning is the act of involuntarily opening the mouth, accompanied by a deep breath that makes air to fill the lungs.

Yawns can be short or long (for a couple of seconds) before the inhaled air is exhaled by a deep breath or sigh. It can make the eyes watery. It is readily spread to a person who is closer in proximity to the “yawner”.

A 2013 study documented in the Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research suggests that yawning is a temperature-cooling phenomenon in the brain.

It is possible for this act to become excessive. Excessive yawning can be attributed to so many causes. That is the essence of this article – exploring the causes of excessive yawning.

But before we go on to see the possible causes of excessive yawning, when can yawning be said to be excessive?

Excessive yawning is said to occur when in a minute, more than one yawn happens. When this becomes so frequent, it might be an underlying medical condition other than its natural trigger – tiredness, boredom, stress, or sleepiness.

Certain conditions can trigger a vasovagal reaction, which then results in excessive yawning. A vasovagal reaction is characterized by increased activity in the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the throat and into the abdomen. 

The activation of the vagus nerve causes a significant drop in heart rate and blood pressure. The reaction can indicate anything from a sleep disorder to a serious heart condition.


Causes of excessive yawning

The definitive causes of excessive yawning are not yet known, but possible causes have been deduced by different authorities. Some include;

  1. Heart bleeding. This can occur either in the heart or around it.
  2. Drowsiness, tiredness, or fatigue
  3. Sleep-associated disorders e.g. narcolepsy, sleep apnea, etc.
  4. Medication-induced side effects especially depressive-maniac disorders medications, anxiety, etc. Notable medication-induced drowsiness is seen when a kind of selective inhibitor called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is used.


Diagnosis for excessive yawning

The first thing usually done to diagnose excessive yawning when such cases are presented is to assess the sleep history of the patient. If the doctor determines that it is not caused by sleep disorders, diagnostic tests are then carried out.

The diagnostic tests include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalogram, abbreviated as EEG. A sleep-study test can also be carried out.

In MRI, powerful radio and magnetic waves are utilized to have a comprehensive view of the body’s internal organs. The MRI images are then used to diagnose whether there is a brain abnormality (eg a tumor), a spinal cord abnormality (eg. multiple sclerosis), or even heart abnormalities.

EEG is the way electrical activities of the brain are measured. It is carried out to see if there are underlying brain conditions e.g. epilepsy.

Sleep study test: If the cause is suspected to be a sleep disorder, the patient will be placed under observation by a sleep specialist. During this test, parameters such as brainwaves, heart rates and rhythms, oxygenation, breathing, and blood pressure are closely monitored. Certain body movements indicative of a sleep disorder are monitored by the specialist all through the night.


Treatment for excessive yawning

The treatment of excessive yawning is determined by its underlying cause. This, therefore, means that diagnosis of the cause of excessive yawning precedes the choice of treatment. Treatment is cause-based. It is usually advisable to seek emergency care in cases when you are exposed to cold, have a head injury, drug overdose, or when you are at the onset of taking a new medication.

  1. If the cause of excessive yawning is due to a sleep disorder, sleep-support medications will be administered to the patient. Certain techniques like regimented sleep schedule, use of a breathing apparatus, and controlled exercise can also be included.
  2. If it is medication-induced, a lower drug dosage will be administered. It is advisable to always seek help from a doctor in this regard and medications should be followed through.
  3. If the cause is an underlying liver condition or epilepsy, then the condition must be treated first.


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