why difficulty in breathing

Dysfunctional Breathing and how to rectify it?

QS: Find out more about dysfunctional breathing and hyperventilation from this article.


Have you forgotten how to breathe? The most important question that comes up is, can anyone forget breathing?


If you are reading it, you know you are here since you think something is wrong with the way you are breathing now.

The term for any change in breathing pattern is known as dysfunctional breathing and you are here to understand why the difficulty in breathing is a cause of worry today.

What causes it and how to heal it?


Who can it happen to and what are the causes that affect your breathing pattern primarily?

In this post, you will find handy help from a person who has undergone such a life changing event.


Well, it happened so that one day a girl fell down while coming out of the washroom on the wet floor and the same night woke up with a change in her breathing pattern. A number of visits to different types of doctors led to the conclusion that she was suffering from dysfunctional breathing.

Almost all of a sudden, she forgot how to breathe, something she knew even when she was a newborn with zero training.

Most of them concluded that the fall led to increased anxiety and that the breathing difficulty was due to anxiety primarily.

Slowly, she found out that she was not alone in the game, and that there were others like her. Mostly athletes and here she was who had never risen a foot lest she would have to face any inconvenience.


While searching for a cause it was noted that there could be many reasons and the ordeal to understand if there was a way to address and also can dysfunctional breathing be cured began for her, a journey in itself.

Dysfunctional Breathing Causes

We would know the dysfunctional breathing causes next for those who wish to understand more about the situation they are in like the Y girl. why difficulty in breathing is a point of concern and what are the causes behind it apart from pollution being the master problem guiding a human’s ability to breathe.

Many protagonists often do a conjoined work or work singularly to bring distress to a person’s breathing pattern. The dysfunctional breathing patterns are quite different and often resemble a person short of breath.


What causes them, dive in to know more.

PsychologicalMedical conditions
Worrying state of mindAnaemia that happens due to iron deficiency in the body
Depression for a prolonged period (more than three months)Asthma
Stress that leads to high stress hormone levelsLungs having blood clots or accumulated fluid that can be due to several bacterial and viral conditions
Anxiety that stays with youPneumonia
 A constant mindset of continuous better performance and a high sense of competitionCOPD/Emphysema
Uncontrolled fearsLow calcium levels
Tiredness and due to it dizzinessPost ovulation phase in women
Sensitivity to abnormal light and sound frequenciesBronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)
 Borderline personality disorder
DrugsOther important ones
Aspirin overdoseSudden fall
Ventolin inhalerDamage to the diaphragm wall or the ribs
Progesterone when administered as a hormoneFever
CaffeineSeveral habitual drugs
NicotineExcessive unmonitored exercise
Physical Effects 
Irregular rhythms 

How or what is the process of dysfunctional breathing?

Is dysfunctional breathing dangerous?


It is a process that can lead to scarring of tissues and soon asthma, gut disorders and other such complaints may creep up in no time.

Refer to this chart for a detailed view of what goes wrong with your body when faced with dysfunctional breathing:


Flowchart for dysfunctional breathing

Image Credit: PhysioPedia.com

If figures seem daunting to decipher, read the steps as presented below to get a grip on what happens in dysfunctional breathing.

  • Any stimuli that are abnormal for your body can lead to an anxious body state.
  • A gasping breathing pattern means mouth breathing more frequently.
  • This breathing pattern reduces the carbon dioxide levels in the body.
  • It further aggravates the need to breathe more and also induces the feeling of breath incompleteness.
  • Blood can become more alkaline due to increased oxygen level and less carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Calcium is lost more and more and it further aggravates poor muscle and nerve function.
  • Respiratory alkalosis, smooth muscle constriction, narrowing of blood vessels, and gut walls narrowing.
  • All these processes will lead to decreased Bohr Effect that will lead to the reduction of oxygen delivery and as such impaired oxygen exchange within the red blood cells.

The total description of dysfunctional breathing means addressing different issues together.


With 8%-10% of the population being impacted, and it being more common in women and children, it is a concerning factor.

Symptoms of Dysfunctional Breathing

Dysfunctional breathing symptoms include and significantly impacts;

  • Diaphragmatic descent poor and its exacerbation
  • Thoracic mobility loss
  • Accessory or respiratory muscle stress or tension
  • Postures considered dysfunctional for appropriate movement of the chest wall

These conditions will lead to the occurrence of more than 30 different kinds of symptoms that one needs to look out for. If you have at least three of these symptoms, you might need to look into them deeply so that you can find a way to overcome the dysfunctional breathing condition.

Some of the common symptoms are tabulated and include;

  • Increased frequency of yawning and sighing
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Anxious and uptight feelings
  • Uncomfortable Breathing
  • Wet or sweaty palms
  • Chest pain or muscle pain
  • Increased tiredness
  • Dizziness or spacing out
  • Air hunger development
  • Low back pain and BPD
  • Feeling of pins and needles
  • Shallow, rapid, upper chest thoracic breathing
  • Chronic rhino sinusitis may worsen with an increase in dysfunctional breathing

These symptoms combined or different led to its elaborate classification as given below.

Dysfunctional Breathing Classification

Barker and Everard and Boulder et all classified dysfunctional breathing into the following and you can know why difficulty in breathing is to be carefully monitored;

Barker and Everard Boulding et al 
Thoracic dysfunctional breathingOnly upper chest wall activity, sighing, irregularity in respiratory patternsHyperventilation syndromeOnly respiratory alkalosis association
ExtrathoracicImpairment of the upper airway and even vocal cord dysfunctionPeriodic deep sighingSighing, irregular breathing pattern overlapping into hyperventilation
FunctionalNo structural or functional changes in breathing patternDominant breathing through the thoraxHigher levels of dyspnoea, somatic diseases might show up  leading to increased hyperinflation
StructuralAnatomical or neurological changesForced abdominal  expirationIncreased abdominal muscle contraction, prominent often in COPD, and pulmonary hyperinflation
  Asynchronous Thoracoabdominal musclesRib cage and abdominal contraction as ineffective respiratory mechanics. Upper airway obstruction as a normal physiological response

Basically, dysfunctional breathing is one of the most precocious ones and often it takes a lot of effort and time on people’s part to understand and effectively treat and cure it.

Dysfunctional Breathing Treatment

Is dysfunctional breathing dangerous? It is, if it not addressed appropriately. Treating dysfunctional breathing is the most neglected part in some developing countries as the right knowledge and awareness around it is mostly missing from people.

Treatment courses are primarily centered on finding if there is an underlying cause of its occurrence like an allergic asthma or asthma of any kind. Also, in elderly, occurrence of COPD or emphysema works well to contribute to dysfunctional breathing.

If you are an athlete, your nature of sports will be taken into consideration.

For an athlete, you will be assessed for these parameters:

  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Fatigue
  • Poor aerobic fitness
  • Underperformance
  • Exercise induced bronchoconstriction and laryngeal obstruction
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Other infectious diseases

As and when a person is not asthmatic, the primary goal is to reset the dysfunctional breathing back to normal by aligning the lungs and brain suitably.

Most of it is done through physiotherapy and proper breathing trainings.

  • Nose breathing effectively
  • Tummy movements
  • Subconscious and automatic process retraining
  • Ability to complete full sentences
  • Keeping the inhalation period slightly shorter than the exhalation
  • Getting rid of mouth breathing, noisy, erratic, and shallow brief breathing
  • Preventing raised shoulders from occurring
  • Top chest movement prevention
  • Reducing the breathlessness and the coughing, yawning and sighing frequencies and tendencies

The process to align your breathing would include the following if you want to answer why difficulty in breathing is essential to resolve;

  • Belly breathing is the first step to rectify breathing abnormality. Place the hand on your chest and inflate and deflate your tummy while normal breathing.
  • Trying to implement nose breathing regularly
  • Working and managing the trigger points like anxiety, pain, reflux, and other such externally manageable conditions.
  • Posture rectification
  • Staying active all this while will help keep your muscles taut so that there are no weak muscles as these have the ability to draw in more oxygen.
  • Window Breathing means forming a square breathing pattern wherein you take continuous back to back inspirations and expirations into consideration.
Window Breathing

Image credit: wsh.nhs.uk

  • Increase your fitness and exercise tolerance alongwith your quality of life.

If you wish to know where you must stand, you need to follow the BORG breathless scale.

LevelsDescriptionExpanded description
0Unnoticeable breathlessnessNo issues at all
0.5Enough noticeableFaintly breathless
1Very slightBreathing is a bit harder
2SlightCan converse and feeling of warmth
3ModerateAs though things are working
4Somewhat slightly difficultBit puffed and sweaty but
5DifficultBreathless, hot  sweaty but can talk
6Moderately severeTalking is possible but can’t push
7SevereVery breathless and struggling
8Very severeGrunting more than talking and can’t keep the speed for a long time
9Very, very severeNot able to talk and feeling to stop sooner
10Maximum effortMaximum force

Everytime while exercising, you need to remember not to exert yourself beyond 3 or 4. Exercising is a must as not exercising will lead to weak muscles that consume more oxygen.  Further breathless feeling can make one feel like they cannot ever exercise again.

Thus, exercising, having a healthy diet with the right amount of vegetables and protein and a regular sleep cycle will help immensely alongwith removal of unnecessary triggers. With the ever rising pollution, why difficulty in breathing is a concern is something that must be tackled accordingly.

Read more about sun’s exposure and effect on skin here

Snehashree Mandal
Snehashree Mandal

A poetry enthusiast and a lover of words, storytelling and content creation are some of the fond ways to live in this world.
Had the world been a blank book, I would like to write all about it.
Open to collaboration for content and other niche writing including storytelling, with a life science background and ten years of health science knowledge, writing pretty much seemed always the next step.
Do not forget to catch hold of my books on Amazon.
A Hiatus from the Loaded Past- https://www.amazon.in/Hiatus-Loaded-Past-breather-slipping-ebook/dp/B08MC8TWKT
Five Lotuses and the Morass- https://www.amazon.com/Five-Lotuses-Morass-Snehashree-Mandal-ebook/dp/B0BCL4BMPD


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