All About Hyperpnea and Respiration

Medically Reviewed By Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
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Hyperpnea involves taking deeper or larger breaths than usual. There are many possible causes of hyperpnea ranging from high altitude to heart failure. You can pronounce hyperpnea as either “hy-perp-nea” or with the second “p” silent, as in “hy-per-nea.”

Hyperpnea may or may not occur alongside a more rapid rate of breathing.

Hyperpnea is a response to an increased demand for oxygen, such as during vigorous exercise, or decreased oxygen availability, such as at a high altitude.

Hyperpnea may be harmless, but it can also be due to an underlying medical condition.

Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of hyperpnea.

What is hyperpnea?

woman out of breath
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Hyperpnea occurs when the breaths you take are larger or deeper than usual. Hyperpnea is an increased volume of each breath, whether breathing is faster or not.

Deep breathing accompanies conditions that involve either increased oxygen demand or decreased oxygen availability. Deep breathing occurs with feeling short of breath, and there are many causes.

Physiological causes of hyperpnea

Physiological causes of hyperpnea can include everyday activities and situations:

  • Exercise: You breathe in more air as you exercise because your muscles use up more oxygen. This increases the demand for oxygen, leading to hyperpnea.
  • Cold air: This may cause drying of the airways and airway spasms. This decreases the amount of oxygen you can take in. You may feel short of breath. Your body automatically takes in deeper breaths to compensate.
  • Altitude: Air pressure is lower the further from sea level and contains less oxygen. Being at a high altitude can cause hyperpnea because less oxygen is available to meet the demands of your body.

Taking larger breaths than usual can also be due to a clinical condition, such as:

  • Anemia: This is a decrease in red blood cells. Since your red blood cells carry oxygen, fewer red blood cells than usual means your blood has less oxygen.
  • Asthma: This condition is a narrowing of the airways due to inflammation or spasm.
  • Heart failure: This causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe and reducing oxygen levels. Hyperpnea and shortness of breath during sleep can be symptoms of heart failure, especially when the shortness of breath awakens the sleeper. This is known as paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This chronic condition involves thickening of the breathing passages. It also reduces your body’s oxygen levels.
  • Panic disorder: This is a type of anxiety disorder involving intense, sudden fear without an actual stressor present. Physical symptoms may involve breathing problems.

When to see a doctor

Contact a healthcare professional if you notice your breathing pattern changes at times unrelated to exercise, cold air exposure, or altitude.

When in doubt, contact your doctor about any breathing symptoms that cause you concern.

Evaluating your breathing

Your physician will listen to your heart and lungs, take a detailed history, and order tests. These may include:

  • Spirometry: This is a lung function test to determine how effectively you are breathing. You seal your mouth around the spirometry tube, inhale sharply, then blow out through the tube with maximum effort. You may have spirometry in a variety of healthcare settings.
  • Blood gas test: You may have this test if you go to an emergency department for an evaluation of breathing symptoms, as well as other conditions. It measures the amount of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and pH levels in a sample of blood from an artery, generally in your wrist. Arterial blood gas is another name for this test.
  • Exercise stress test: This is a combination of tests, such as EKG, pulse oximetry, and others. These tests measure your heart and lung function as you exercise and when you are at rest. Exercise testing uses a stationary bicycle or treadmill. You would have this test at a hospital or healthcare clinic but not at your doctor’s office.

Hyperpnea vs. tachypnea

Tachypnea is an increase in the respiratory rate over what is typical for the person’s age. Hyperpnea is an increase in the volume of air you take in with each breath. Infants and children have faster respiratory rates than adults do. Tachypnea and hyperpnea may or may not occur together.

Other types of respiration

The other types of respiration include:

  • apnea, which is the absence of breathing
  • eupnea, which is typical, quiet breathing
  • sighing, which involves an involuntary deep breath, sometimes due to anxiety
  • dyspnea, which is a subjective feeling of difficulty breathing, such as shortness of breath
  • paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, which involves shortness of breath that wakes a person from sleep
  • orthopnea, which is difficulty breathing while lying flat
  • Cheyne-Stokes respirations, which consist of shallow breaths, followed by deep breaths, followed by apnea in a pattern
  • bradypnea, which involves a lower respiratory rate than usual
  • tachypnea, which is a higher respiratory rate than usual
  • hyperventilation, which is breathing more than what is necessary to eliminate carbon dioxide
  • hypoventilation, which is breathing less than what is necessary to maintain oxygen levels

Possible treatments for hyperpnea

Treatment for hyperpnea depends on the underlying cause. If your breathing pattern is due to a condition like asthma, heart failure, or COPD, work with your doctor closely to create a treatment plan. This may include:

  • medications
  • home monitoring of breathing
  • oxygen supplementation
  • pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a type of physical therapy that can increase your fitness and lung function. The therapy team includes doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and dietitians. This therapy may decrease hospital visits, help you manage your symptoms, and improve your quality of life.

Hyperpnea with exercise does not typically require treatment. It should quickly resolve when you stop the activity. However, if it does not go away quickly, or occurs with dizziness or feeling faint, contact your physician.

Hyperpnea at high altitude should resolve with descent to a lower altitude, as oxygen availability increases.

Frequently asked questions

Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C, reviewed the following questions.

Is hyperpnea a disease?

Hyperpnea is not itself a disease, but it may be a symptom of a disease.

Summary

Hyperpnea is an increase in breath volume with or without an increase in respiratory rate. You automatically breathe deeper to take in more oxygen. This can occur when your body uses more oxygen due to increased oxygen demand or senses less oxygen in the air you breathe, which decreases oxygen availability.

Everyday conditions involving hyperpnea include exercise, cold, and altitude. These should resolve on their own and do not usually require treatment.

Health conditions that can cause hyperpnea include asthma, heart failure, anemia, COPD, and panic disorder. Contact your doctor to develop a treatment plan if you have any of these conditions.

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Medical Reviewer: Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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