Is breathing trouble linked to car crash? Where's all my wind?

Could car crash be behind breathing problem?

My 13-year-old son says that he when he lies flat on his back he has difficulty breathing, but he is fine with a pillow under his head. We were involved in a car accident last year where he had seatbelt injuries and I wonder whether it could be anything to do with that. He is not keen to go to the doctor as he thinks this will involve having tests/scans (which he had a lot of after the accident as he suffered from double vision). Should I take him to the doctor despite his fears?

I think it is unwise ever to dismiss the symptom of breathing difficulties, without at least thinking carefully about what might be causing it. I assume that your son is able to carry on with the normal activities of a healthy 13-year-old without any problems. The car accident sounds like it was quite serious (double vision is another symptom that should never be dismissed). If he had seatbelt injuries, it is possible that he may have injured his neck, or his voicebox – or even his windpipe. The belt might well have crossed your son's neck if he's less than 5ft tall. Having said all of this, I find it difficult to image what kind of injury would cause breathing difficulties when lying flat, but no problems when standing upright. I think it would be wise for him to see his GP, who will decide if he needs further tests.

What has happened to my flatulence?

Before my wedding I trained myself not to break wind in bed. Over the past 40-odd years of silent nights, where has all that gas gone? Was it absorbed by my gut? Did it do me any harm?

This is one of the most intriguing questions I have ever been asked. As far as I can determine, there is virtually no medical literature on the subject. In 1991, physiologists in Sheffield conducted a study in which they measured the amount of wind passed by 10 healthy volunteers, who ate their normal diets plus 200g of baked beans a day. The amount of wind passed over 24 hours varied enormously. The smallest amount was 476ml and the largest amount was 1476ml. The hourly wind production during sleep was about half as much as during the day. When wind begins to accumulate in the rectum, the natural urge is to release it. If this urge is resisted, the wind either leaks out slowly, or backtracks in the lower intestine. A small amount may be reabsorbed, but it mostly ends up being released, either consciously or unconsciously. I think it is very unlikely that your "silent nights" have been as silent as you think.

Please send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, The Independent, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e-mail Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.

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