Woman's odd condition makes her feel like she's suffocating

Take a deep, satisfying breath.

Barbara Schmidt can’t.

With every breath, she feels as if she is suffocating.

About 20 years ago, Schmidt had nasal surgery for a stuffy nose and sinus infections and ended up with Empty Nose Syndrome — a rare debilitating condition that also may have plagued Michael Jackson.

“I had taken for granted that my body automatically breathes and senses that it is breathing,” said Schmidt, a married mom of one from Monmouth County, NJ.

Now, Schmidt says, she constantly has to remind herself to take breaths — and when she does draw in air, it feels as if she’s “breathing through a straw.’’

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Empty Nose Syndrome, or ENS, was first medically identified in 1994 by Dr. Eugene Kern, who noted that two of his patients suffering from the condition were so tortured by it, they committed suicide.

ENS can result from any surgery — including a nose job — that affects the turbinates, or the cylindrical organs, stacked within the nasal cavity, three per side.

Turbinates warm and humidify incoming air, as well as help signal to the body that it is breathing.

In some cases, when turbinates are removed or affected during surgery, the patient’s lungs receive incoming air but cannot feel the sensation.

“The problem is a lack of communication between breathing and the brain,” said Dr. Subinoy Das, a rhinologist in Columbus, Ohio.

For Schmidt, this means she must constantly be aware of when she is breathing. Her breaths are shallow and jagged rather than smooth and steady. And she jolts awake at night, gasping for air.

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