What is Paradoxical Breathing？
Paradoxical breathing is a general term for a series of respiratory distress states.
In some cases, paradoxical breathing may be acute and require urgent action. In other cases, it can be a long-term problem. It can flare up when you feel stressed, leading to panic attacks and/or prolonged breathing difficulties.
In paradoxical breathing, the chest and abdomen function in opposition to each other. On inhalation, the chest expands (moves up and out) while the abdomen moves inward, raising the diaphragm and reducing lung volume.
Another term for abnormal breathing is chest breathing.
In a normal, healthy breathing pattern, when you inhale, your diaphragm moves down. At the same time, your abdomen expands away from your spine. During the exhalation, your diaphragm moves up and your abdomen retracts inwards into your spine.
This is also called diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing.
What is diaphragm?
The diaphragm is a muscle between your lungs and your heart that lets air in and out as you breathe.
When you inhale, your lungs expand and fill with air. Your diaphragm pushes down to reduce pressure in your chest and allow your lungs to expand. In paradoxical breathing, when you inhale, the diaphragm moves up and the lungs don’t expand much. This prevents you from getting enough oxygen, which is important for many body functions. It also makes it difficult to exhale carbon dioxide, a waste product of the respiratory system.
What are the symptoms of paradoxical breathing?
- Trouble catching breath
- Fast heart rate
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Chest pain or weakness
- Excessive sleepiness, also known as narcolepsy
- Fatigue, or exhaustion that sleep does not alleviate
- Wake up often at night
- Poor athletic performance
What causes it?
Many sub-problems can cause paradoxical effects in breathing (sometimes called double breathing or even hyperventilation) when chronic stress from work or other problems become an issue.
That is, the fight-or-flight response (brought on by chronic stress) leads to faster, shallower breathing — actually an abdominal ambivalent type of breathing.
2.Obstructive sleep apnea
This disrupts the inflow of oxygen and the exhalation of carbon dioxide. Eventually, the chest wall turns inward instead of outward, which can lead to ambivalent breathing.
The phrenic nerve controls the movement of the diaphragm and other key muscles of the trunk. Nerve damage can disrupt the normal movement of muscles in the trunk and cause breathing changes.
4. Lung problems
People with lung-related health problems (such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, etc.) are more likely to have paradoxical chest movements.
How to solve the contradiction of breathing?
If the problem is chronic and persistent, relearning how to breathe, especially learning how to perform abdominal breathing, will be necessary to resolve chronic ambivalent breathing.
In cases where other acute injuries or events lead to abnormal effects, emergency measures such as oxygen must be taken.
Breathing exercises can help improve your breathing and eliminate paradoxical effects. Here are some short examples of breathing exercises:
1. Take a deep breath
Stand or sit in a good position. Gently close your eyes. Get all the air out of your lungs. Now, breathe in slowly through your nose, and note:
- Your abdomen (stomach) expands outward
- Your chest and shoulders are still
- You don’t feel your chest moving — especially not moving up
After inhaling deeply, begin to exhale out of your mouth. Note:
- Your abdomen retracts into your spine (deflates)
- Your chest and shoulders are still
- You don’t feel your chest moving — especially not moving down
This is an example of how to breathe better with proper breathing patterns.
2. Practice square breathing
Square breathing is a simple exercise that can help calm quivering nerves, reduce stress and trigger a relaxation response. Do this whenever you feel overwhelmed or unable to breathe.
How this is done:
- Using the correct breathing pattern above, first take a deep breath and count to four
- Hold your breath and count to four
- Slowly, exhale to the count of four
- Hold your breath again for a count of four
Repeat this four-step process for about one to two minutes.
You can get more breathing exercises with the OPUMP breathing trainer.