Breathing is something most of us take for granted – after all, it happens without any thought at all. It is a central aspect of our whole being and is one of our most vital functions.
But sometimes things happen that mean the natural rhythm of our breathing can become disrupted. This is known as a breathing pattern disorder (BPD).  A number of people come to see me because they have been diagnosed with the condition, or have noticed a change in their breathing which is creating symptoms, and need help to address it.
What is BPD?
First and foremost, what it isn’t is something that’s just in your head! It is a recognised condition where your breathing rhythm becomes irregular due to a specific trigger.
When any of the triggers come into play there may be a physiological reaction that affects your breathing. You may be mouth breathing a lot rather than nose breathing, or using the wrong muscles to breathe (this is where you’re using the upper chest rather than the diaphragm). This means that your breathing becomes out of sync, too fast or the breaths you take become too large.
Everyone experiences a different set of symptoms but some common signs of BPD can be:
  • Headache
  • Air hunger
  • Sighing / yawning
  • Tight chest
  • Asthma
  • Cramps / tremors
  • Panic attacks
  • Excess wind
  • Dizziness / fainting
  • Cough
  • Dry throat
  • Palpitations (noticeable heartbeats)
  • Weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Unreal feelings
  • Pins and needles in fingers and toes
What causes it?
Triggers generally sit within 4 different categories:
  • Psychological – these can include stress, anxiety and depression
  • Medical conditions – ranging from anaemia (lack of iron) to asthma, from pneumonia to COPD/emphysema or even blood clots on the lungs or fluid on the lungs
  • Drugs – using a Ventolin inhaler or hormonal drugs such as progesterone, and even other non-medical related stimuli such as nicotine, alcohol or caffeine
  • Other – there may be other factors outside of the above such as high altitude, fever (high temperature) hormones or even exercise
What the above triggers indicate is that while BPD can exist as a result of a medical condition, it can also occur in the absence of any disease.
Why not check out your current breathing pattern by taking the breathing test? It’s a short questionnaire that could help you determine if your breathing pattern is normal.
Can it be fixed?

Respiratory physio is the best way for you treat the condition. Respiratory physio will help you to reestablish your normal breathing pattern and mechanics.

Working with your respiratory physio will initially involve assessing your current breathing pattern as well as identifying the factors that initially caused the BPD, and/or may trigger any poor breathing pattern in the future. You will then be given a tailored set of exercises to help retrain your breathing pattern, as well as any other identified areas of muscle weakness or tension. Your physio might also discuss lifestyle changes that will have a positive effect on the condition too.

It’s important to understand that there is no quick fix for BPD. To ensure treatment is successful you will need to be engaged and committed to practicing what you’ve been taught outside of your sessions with your respiratory physio. The benefits of doing so are vast – your breathing will return to normal, you’ll feel much less stress and a greater sense of wellbeing.

For more useful information on BPD, visit the Physiotherapy for Breathing Pattern Disorders website.