Are you breathing right? Do you experience a lack of oxygen that alters your comfort level during the day or at night? It is important to understand and examine the way you breathe in order to detect any breathing problems early.
Your respiration rate – the number of times you breathe in a minute – is one of the vital signs your doctor checks when you visit. The normal rate depends on your age, but a typical adult takes between 12 and 20 breaths a minute when resting. You can measure your rate by counting the number of breaths you take in a minute – count the number of breaths taken 15 seconds and multiply by 4.
This common issue happens when you breathe faster than your body needs to and you get rid of too much carbon dioxide. That throws off the balance in your blood. Hyperventilation can be caused by things like exercise, anxiety, or asthma. It can make you feel dizzy, weak, or confused.
The traditional treatment is to breathe into a paper bag so you breathe back in some of the carbon dioxide. But today, doctors recommend taking deep breaths or covering your mouth and one of your nostrils to limit how much air gets in. If you have trouble calming down when experiencing breathing problems, ask someone to help you.
Dyspnea, orthopnea, trepopnea
This is when you feel ‘short of breath’, like your body can’t get enough air. It’s a common symptom of many heart and lung problems, and it can be a sign of something serious, like an asthma attack or heart attack. Get medical help right away if you’re short of breath very suddenly.
It also can happen if you’re at high altitudes, in poor physical health, or are obese. In those cases, your doctor might recommend special breathing exercises, or they may give you oxygen.
Several types of dyspnea happen only when your body is in a certain position. They include:
Orthopnea, when you feel short of breath when you lie down. It often happens in people who have heart failure, when bloof can build up in their lungs, if they lie down. Sitting up or standing usually eases the problem.
A similar condition called paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea can make you feel so short of breath that you wake up in the middle of the night. This is also a symptom of heart failure.
Trepopnea is a kind of dyspnea that happens when you lie on a certain side. It might happen when you lie on your left side but not on your right – or the other way around.
Platypnea is a rare type of dyspnea that makes you feel short of breath when you’re standing up. Lying down makes you feel better.
People having breathing problems often show signs that they are having to work harder to breathe or are not getting enough oxygen, indicating respiratory distress. Some signs indicate that a person is working harder to breathe and may not be getting enough oxygen. These include:
Breathing rate – An increase in the number of breaths per minute may mean that a person is having trouble breathing or not getting enough oxygen.
Colour changes – A bluish colour seen around the mouth, on the inside of the lips, or on the fingernails may happen when a person is not getting as much oxygen as needed. The colour of the skin may also appear pale or gray.
Grunting – A grunting sound can be heard each time the person exhales. This grunting is the body’s way of trying to keep air in the lungs so they will stay open.
Nose flaring – The openings of the nose spreading open while breathing may mean that a person is having to work harder to breathe.
Retractions – The chest appears to sink in just below the neck or under the breastbone with each breath or both. This is one way of trying to bring more air into the lungs, and can also be seen under the rib cage or even in the muscles between the ribs.
Sweating – There may be increased sweat on the head, but the skin does not feel warm to the touch. More often, the skin may feel cool or clammy. This may happen when the breathing rate is very fast.
Wheezing – A tight, whistling or musical sound heard with each breath can mean that the air passages may be smaller (tighter), making it harder to breathe.
Body position – A person may spontaneously lean forward while sitting to help take deeper breaths. This is a warning sign that he or she is about to collapse.
Treatment of breathing problems depends on its nature and onset as well as necessary tests (X-rays, blood tests) to ascertain the condition. However, some preventive measures can be helpful to avoid getting breathless. You should:
Avoid stressful situations that cause you to be breathless
Stay calm and stand/sit up straight, it helps air get in and out easily
Avoid pollution or anything you are allergic to
Lose weight, if you are overweight
Have a plan for what to do, if things get worse