Are You Hyperventilating (Without Even Knowing It)?


The Buteyko method is one of our favorite home remedies for asthma, because it’s relatively simple and worked so well for me. It has re-framed how we view my asthma, and how we treat it. 

We’ve had such great success with the Buteyko method, because we trust its central tenant – that asthma is caused by overbreathing.

Buteyko was a Russian doctor who spent years studying the breathing of both healthy and non-healthy individuals. He observed a correlation between sickness and breathing: the sicker the patient, the higher volume of air they were breathing.

What he found was that people suffering from asthma actually have too much oxygen in their blood, and not enough carbon dioxide. So, Buteyko’s life’s work became developing a method to help his patients reduce their breathing.

Healthy breathing is generally 3-5 litres of air per minute. That’s all the body needs to function normally. Breathing more that than is hyperventilation. Breathing more than that everyday is chronic-hyperventilation.

We know that hyperventilating can be very dangerous, even deadly. Chronically overbreathing isn’t as acute a problem, but overtime it creates organ damage that contributes to a host of conditions, especially asthma.

We know how to recognize the symptoms of hyperventilation, which can be fatal. Chronic ventilation is often hidden or unrecognized – you’re probably not aware that you’re breathing more than normal. I wasn’t until I started studying Buteyko.

Why is Overbreathing Bad?

Because if you breathe in too much, you have to breathe out too much, releasing too much carbon dioxide. And carbon dioxide isn’t just a waste product. Yes, we do need to expel most of it – but not all of it.

A healthy person typically has 5% carbon dioxide in the part of their lungs called alveoli. Chronic hyperventilators, however, can have as low as 3.5%. Less than 3%, Buteyko found, leads to death.

So yes, we expel a lot of carbon dioxide when we breathe out. But that 5% we hold on to does a lot. Carbon dioxide helps transport oxygen to our organs and helps dilate blood vessels and airways. We need it to survive.  And increasing your level of carbon dioxide through systems like the Buteyko method provides relief to asthma sufferers.

And How Can You Tell if You’re Overbreathing?

This is tricky. You likely don’t have spirometer at your disposal. But there are easier ways to determine how much you’re breathing.

First, look at your symptoms.  If you have asthma and you use your ventalin several times a day, then you’re probably responding to low levels of carbon dioxide. Other symptoms include blocked nose, snoring and frequent yawning, chronic exhaustion, an irregular heart beat or going to the bathroom several times a night. Breathing through your mouth is also a huge indication you’re breathing too much

Or as a general rule of thumb, if you’re on a website looking for home remedies for asthma, you’re probably breathing too much!

Second, and thankfully, the Buteyko method incorporates a simple test you can do, right now at your desk, to see how well you’re breathing.

It’s called youSign to encourage control pause method of buteyko breathingr Control Pause. Pay attention – if you continue the Buteyko method with us, you’ll become very familiar with your Control Pause. It’s the basic measurement you’ll use to track your breathing volume.

It’s a simple concept – we’re basically just measuring how long you can comfortably control your breath.

So, sit calmly with your back straight, and your body relaxed. Make sure you’re breathing normally. And make sure you’ve got a stopwatch on hand.

Gently breathe in for a count of two, and out for a count of three. Plug your nose, and time how long you can comfortably sit without breathing.  The key word here is comfortably. You shouldn’t be gasping for air at the end – your first breath should be controlled and regular.

It can be tricky to learn exactly what ‘comfortable’ is for you here. When you’re first starting out, you can also do a ‘Maximum Pause’, and hold your breath as long as you can. Your Maximum Pause should be about double your Control Pause.

If your Control Pause is between 40-60 seconds, congratulations! You’re in good health, and the levels of carbon dioxide in your alveoli is within a healthy range.

If your Control Pause is 30 or below, then you don’t have a healthy level of carbon dioxide in your system. But not to worry! Both my Control Pause and Emma’s, who doesn’t have asthma, were under 20 when we started. That’s what the Buteyko method is for!

Next Steps

There are lots of resources if you’d like to learn more about Buteyko. We’re blogging about our experiences with the Buteyko method and with other home remedies for asthma here on treatasthmaathome.com. We also highly recommend the following resoureces, which we bet it will inspire you to stay on this journey with us!

And if you’re like us, you’re curious and open-minded, willing to get healthier to treat your asthma better, and looking for a community of like-minded individuals to share ideas. If that’s so, please join our mailing list (where, yes, of course, we promise never to spam!).

Nick Foster

I'm Nick Foster - author, blogger, health activist and lifelong asthmatic. This blog is a collection of all the experiences and knowledge I've gathered over the years of treating asthma naturally at home.

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