Breathing 101: What can go wrong?

The action is breathing is essential to life for humans. Without the continual supply to oxygen, our cells could not perform any of their specialised functions which allows us to live, explore and interact with our environment.

There are two sides to breathing: inhalation and exhalation. We inhale oxygen, pass it to red blood cells then diffuse the oxygen to cells. Here the oxygen interacts with glucose to produce ATP (main energy source in the body) and carbon dioxide (CO2) which we exhale. Simply put, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2.

The rate and volume of air we breathe at should meet the demands of our activity, so at rest we need less, during exercise we need more. The oxygen saturation of arterial blood is between 95-99% so naturally its very high.

If its so simple, what can go wrong?

Over-breathing. Medically known as hyperventilation. Pop culture shows it as a person breathing heavily and fast during a stressful event, think someone breathing into a paper bag to calm down.

What people don't know hyperventilation is very common in our modern world in a chronic state. In its chronic state, the person is actually breathing out too much CO2 rather than not having enough oxygen in their blood. Physical symptoms may not be noticeable to the untrained eye as they are often very subtle in the early stages.

Not enough CO2?

The lack of CO2 alters the pH balance of the blood and makes the transfer of oxygen to the cells less efficient. This creates an internal drive to breathe faster and deeper to feed more oxygen to the cell, which actually forces more CO2 from our blood and a loop or pattern of hyperventilating is started.

Common causes of hyperventilation are acute physical or mental trauma, high stress employment, poor breathing advice, medical condition or illness.

Common signs of chronic overbreathing include:

  • mouth breathing

  • fast and shallow breathing

  • breathlessness with mild exercise

  • yawning regardless of how much sleep

  • anxiety

  • dark lines under eyes

  • breathing with 'puffed up' chest

  • overall poor health

Quick tests at home

  • find the low point of your relaxed breathing pattern (exhale), hold and see how long until you body first tells you to start breathing. Over 30 sec is desirable

  • compare your or others breathing pattern to a sleeping baby's breathing rate, belly expansion


Retraining your breathing patterns is essential in fixing this issue. Physiotherapy can help to identify the causes and find the root problem. Often there are postural elements which need attention.

Feel free to take a look at extended practice via the button below

Call Alex Ban Physiotherapy in Camden on 4655 9558 if you show signs of overbreathing for a detailed examination to find the reasons why and how to fix it.

#Blog #Breathing #diaphragm #overbreathing #hyperventilation #health #camden #physio #physiotherapist #physiotherapy