Chronic Symptoms? Let’s Fix Your Breathing

Breathing Pattern DisorderIn many ways, your breathing pattern reflects your health status and health resiliency. It’s a gateway to your nervous system, cardiovascular system, and your body’s biological homeostatic mechanisms (how the body maintains balance). A Breathing Pattern Disorder can be subtle but extremely impactful: They show up in a variety of seemingly disparate symptoms and undermine many people’s attempts to heal chronic illness. Addressing Breathing Pattern Disorders is one very important way we can strengthen your entire body and help you heal.


Symptoms of a Breathing Pattern Disorder

People with a Breathing Pattern Disorder often experience a few of these symptoms:

  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or vertigo
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent yawning or deep sighing
  • Nausea and reflux
  • Tingling or clammy hands
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Chest pain
  • Changes in heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, irritability, hypervigilance
  • Perpetually sore or tight shoulders and neck
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or irritable bladder
  • Generalized fatigue, often with brain fog
  • Shortness of breath, breathlessness despite normal lung function tests


These symptoms might be caused by a Breathing Pattern Disorder if your usual breathing strays from a healthy pattern, which includes breathing through our nose (during the day and night), with our tongue gently placed on the roof of the mouth. Physiotherapist Christine Campbell tells her clients that our goal is “low” (i.e. breath goes gently into the pelvis), “slow” (10 to 14 breaths per minute), and “flow” (i.e. a smooth breath). It can be helpful to have a small pause at the end of our exhale, or for our exhale to be naturally slightly longer than our inhale.


Self-Assessment: The Nijmegen Questionnaire

This validated questionnaire is considered to be quite sensitive and specific for a particular kind of Breathing Pattern Disorder called hyperventilation, or “hyperventilation syndrome”.

Rate your experience of each symptom from 0 to 4, where 0 means that you never experience that symptom, 1 is rarely, 2 is sometimes, 3 is often, and 4 is very often.

      1. Chest pain (sore chest wall): 0 (never), 1 (rarely), 2 (sometimes), 3 (often), 4 (very often)
      2. Feeling tense (physical tension):
      3. Blurred vision:
      4. Dizzy spells (light-headedness):
      5. Feeling confused (poor concentration, “spaced out”):
      6. Faster, deeper, breathing:
      7. Shortness of breath (breathlessness):
      8. Tight feelings in chest:
      9. Bloated feeling in stomach:
      10. Tingling fingers:
      11. Unable to breathe deeply (frequent sighing):
      12. Cold hands or feet:
      13. Heart racing:
      14. Feelings of anxiety:

A total score of 23 or more means that your breathing pattern might include significant hyperventilation. If your score is less than 23 but you experience some of these symptoms often or quite often, you might still have a breathing pattern disorder. A score of 19 or less is often considered normal.


Resources for Breathing Pattern Disorders:

For breathing assessment and guidance associated with pain conditions, contact Christine Campbell about her breathing program. She has a fantastic educational webinar available here (designed for outpatient long-COVID patients), and many smaller articles available on our website.

For one-on-one breathing guidance associated with speech and sound production, reach out to Adrienne Nobbe, Speech-Language Pathologist.

For breathing pattern disorders associated with underlying health conditions (e.g. stress, insomnia, hormone imbalance, sinusitis, etc.), please contact your Naturopathic Doctor.

To practice breathing associated with movement, explore the ancient art of Qi gong (where our breath is our “qi” or “chi”), or Yoga (where our breath is our “prana”). The word for ‘breath’ in many older languages is synonymous with “life force” or spirit.

To practice breathing associated with stillness, explore the many varieties of mindfulness and meditation. We have some articles written here.

If your breathing pattern is most related to poor posture or chronically tight neck or back muscles, explore this free online course on the Alexander Technique.


*Photo by Raj Rana on Unsplash

breathing, fatigue, Mental health, stress

Dr. Sonya Nobbe, ND

Dr. Sonya Nobbe is a Naturopathic Doctor and Director of Kingston Integrated Healthcare Inc. She has been practicing in the Kingston area since 2007. Dr. Sonya maintains a family practice, with a clinical focus on complex chronic disease, including Lyme disease and Fibromyalgia.


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We respectfully acknowledge that Kingston Integrated Healthcare is situated on ancestral Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory. Since time immemorial they have cared for these lands and waters, and we are grateful. We recognize that a healthy environment is essential to the wellbeing of all people and all life.

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