Breathing is one of the most vital body functions and as such is crucial to health and well-being, yet breathing patterns can change easily. It is estimated that one in ten New Zealanders experience breathing disorders at some point in their lives. These can affect people of all ages including:
- High achievers experiencing high stress levels
- Women. Progesterone is a respiratory stimulant, which can also contribute to PreMenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Breathing disorders include asthma, bronchitis, or lung damage such as chronic obstructive airway disease (COAD)
- People who have experienced abuse or early life trauma of any kind
- Teenagers, mainly due to hormonal changes
- Children who may develop a mouth-breathing pattern due to a chronically blocked nose.
What causes Breathing Pattern Disorders (BPD)?
Hyperventilation is a normal body reaction and all of us have experienced it at some point. Have you considered what happens when you find yourself in a dangerous or stressful situation? Your heart is thumping, your muscles tense up and get ready for action and you have an increase in breathing rate – adrenaline enters the blood stream.
This is an autonomic response commonly known as the “Fight or Flight” response where the body gets ready to fight or flee. Most people can relate to this experience, however when BPD persist and becomes entrenched it is rather more difficult to spot.
Triggers for BPD are varied and can include:
- Physical: Asthma, hayfever, physical pain, chronic chest pain or heart disease
- Physiological: prolonged talking, high fever, progesterone levels, kidney or liver disease or being at high altitude.
- Psychological: fear, anxiety, separation, redundancy, depression, “perfectionist” personality
- Some drugs such as caffeine, nicotine, aspirin, amphetamines
How is BPD Diagnosed?
The symptoms associated with chronic BPD can mimic more serious diseases and can include:
- Breathing discomfort*
- Chest pain*
- Frequent sighs or yawning
- Light-headedness or dizziness*
- Pins and needles
- Achy sore muscles or joints
- Constant tiredness
- Broken sleep
- Upset gut
- Clammy hands and feet
*Check with your health care practitioner if you experience these symptoms
What can be done about Breathing Disorders?
The first strategy is to seek the support of a qualified clinician who can assess you for underlying factors that may be causing or contributing to your discomfort. You may be given herbal medicine, nutritional advice or we may recommend you consult a breathing specialist.
- Dysfunctional breathing: a review of the literature and proposal for classification. European Respiratory Review 2016 25: 287-294
- Breathing pattern disorders and functional movement. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Feb; 9(1): 28–39.
- Physiotherapy assessment of breathing pattern disorder: a qualitative evaluation.
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