I can't breathe! The Breathless Teenager.

  • 13 June 2018

Sometimes it's not 'all in their head' - teenagers can be particularly vulnerable to breathing dysfunction.

While writing this newsletter, we are experiencing particularly cold weather in the southern hemisphere. The cold winds will of course tickle up those airways in asthma sufferers (I should be writing about lung health) but top of my mind is the increasing number of adolescents I am seeing across the board. They are presenting for a number of reasons - let’s look at some of last week’s case load in the clinic.

Two teenage national level athletes presented, both struggling to get their breath and find form, and both with appalling breathing patterns. The breathing pattern was apical (upper chest) with resting respiratory rates well over 18 breaths per minute. No wonder they were both literally falling to bits by the time they reached the clinic! They had both seen numerous specialist’s, and had been previously diagnosed with Vocal Cord Dysfunction for which they had received treatment. This made a small difference, but their symptoms continued. They then were both told they were stressed out - ending up at a psychologist, with no resolution of their symptoms.They were mentally struggling to find the psychological stressors to explain their symptoms, which they thought was fueling this dysfunction. Yes, they were stressed, but not in the way the specialists thought!

Mechanical and physiological breathing dysfunction can be hidden behind 'stress'

The incredible stress these athletes were under was mechanical and physiological - their breathing was reversed, and lungs dynamically hyperinflated. From the assessment we began focussing on pure diaphragmatic breathing in a resting position. Keeping it simple, reducing the work of breathing, calming the nervous system. They responded very quickly, as teenagers tend to do. Both presented at their follow up sessions with much better breathing, feeling calmer, physically stronger, looking better and much more balanced.

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