Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

Dysfunctional Breathing

What is it?

Dysfunctional breathing is a prolonged loss of the normal pattern of breathing meaning that your breathing becomes less efficient. This leads to breathing either more quickly or more deeply in order to maintain normal oxygen levels within the body. These sorts of changes in breathing can happen naturally such as when you are exercising or when you are stressed.
It is only when this pattern is maintained long term that symptoms may develop.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms can be quite wide ranging. They include, breathlessness, increased yawning or sighing, tension in the shoulders and neck, fatigue, pins and needles in your hands or lips and difficulty concentrating. They occur as a result of changes in the levels of carbon dioxide within the body.

What causes it?

Whilst it is not always clear what causes dysfunctional breathing.
There are however a number of common triggers listed below:

  • Long term respiratory illnesses, particularly asthma.
  • Previous Chest infections.
  • Pain or injury, particularly if it affects the middle of the back.
  • Conditions that lead to acid reflux for example a hiatus hernia.
  • Stress or anxiety.

However, it is possible for dysfunctional breathing to develop without any of these triggers being present.

What can I do about it?

Retraining your breathing to become more efficient is the main treatment. There are some breathing tips and exercises as well as some more information that can help in the video below. 

Play Video

Coordination of speech and breathing

Breath flow powers our voice for conversation. We inhale (take air in) to fill our lungs then exhale (let air out) when we speak. The longer the word, phrase, or sentence, the more air we need.

Different speech sounds use different amounts of air. For example, /k/ is a quick sound that requires a short burst of air, while /s/ is a long sound that requires a continuous flow of air. In conversation, we pause at times in order to refill our lungs. We then continue to speak on the new air supply. Inhalation/exhalation is an automatic process: however, some individuals can have difficulty maintaining breath support and/or control and need specific practice to improve their breathing for different activities.

Some people experience difficulties with voice projection and vocal tone, others find their throat feels ‘tight’ on talking or their voice fades out. Common causes include over expanding the upper chest when starting to speak, forgetting to pause for breath during speech or speaking to the very end of the out breath, followed by a gasping in breath.

Keeping Me Well - Cardiff and Vale University Hospital

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