Exposure to CO2 Leads to Fear of Suffocation

Researchers believe this anxiety is primordial

It would appear that our genetic legacy also features some very intriguing left-overs, which are not necessarily of use to us today. One such feature is the fact that the human brain triggers a primordial type of fear when exposed to increased amounts of carbon dioxide. The cortex seems to have what scientists have termed a built-in sensor against high CO2 concentrations, which circumvents other alert mechanisms.

The new study could have significant implications for people who suffer from chronic panic attacks. The condition may come from mechanisms such as the recently discovered one, which malfunctions in some individuals. The work may also be able to finally explain why people drawing deep breaths can calm down when suffering from such anxiety attacks, LiveScience reports.

The investigation was conducted on unsuspecting mice by a research team at the University of Iowa. They found that CO2 does not interfere with the body’s functions directly. Instead, it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, the same substance found in soft drinks. They hypothesize that this increased acidity acting on fear-sensing neural circuits inside the brain, is responsible for generating the suffocation sensation.


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