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What is Apneustic Breathing & How is it Treated?

What is Apneustic Breathing?

Apneustic breathing is a rare and abnormal type of breathing involving long, gasping inhalation and insufficient exhalations.

Breathing patterns are of different types. The normal breathing pattern is known as eupnea. Breathing patterns are evaluated by doctors to evaluate a person’s condition.(1)

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The brain plays an important role in breathing. The parts of the brainstem called pons have two areas that control breathing, these are the pneumotaxic and apneustic centers.

The apneustic center on overstimulation leads to an abnormal breathing pattern known as apneustic breathing. Overstimulation can occur due to a stroke or any other type of trauma that causes injury to a pons.(1) Apneustic breathing can be an indicator of severe brain damage.

Characteristic Sound of Apneustic Breathing

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Apneustic breathing can be identified by its distinct sound created by abnormal breathing patterns.

An abnormal breathing pattern involves taking long inward gasping breaths and sporadic insufficient outward breaths.

Other Types of Abnormal Breathing

There is a wide range of breathing patterns that can be helpful to the doctor in coming to a diagnosis.

  1. Agonal Breathing

    Agonal breathing is a type of abnormal breathing in which a person takes shallow, slow, and irregular breaths as a result of brain injury due to a lack of oxygen.

  2. Apnea

    Apnea is the sudden stopping of breathing while a person is asleep. Sleep apnea is of two types:

    • Obstructive: In this type of apnea something prevents the air from reaching the lungs
    • Central: It occurs due to problems with the brain
  3. Biot Respiratory Pattern

    This type of breathing pattern is observed when a person takes regular deep breaths interspersed by apnea episodes.

  4. Bradypnea

    It is a condition in which the respiratory rate of a person is lower than typical for their age.

  5. Central Neurogenic Hyperventilation

    This breathing pattern demonstrates frequent hyperventilation or over breathing. It usually occurs due to head trauma or a severe lack of oxygen to the brain.

  6. Cheyne-Stokes Respiration

    In Cheyne-stokes respiration, breathing gradually increases and decreases while sleeping. It is crescendo-decrescendo breathing. A person’s breathing also stops and starts again, which is known as apnea.

  7. Dyspnea

    It is a symptom in which a person has difficulty in breathing.

  8. Hyperventilation

    An increase in the breathing rate to eliminate excess carbon dioxide is known as hyperventilation. High levels of CO2 may disrupt the pH balance of the body.

  9. Hypoventilation

    It is a decrease in the respiratory rate which disrupts the pH balance as CO2 is not eliminated from the body.

  10. Kussmaul Respiration

    It involves deep sighing breaths.

  11. Orthopnea

    In orthopnea, a person is unable to breath comfortable while lying flat.

  12. Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea

    It is a breathing pattern involving severe shortness of breath, waking a person from sleep and forcing them to sit up and catch their breath.

  13. Tachypnea

    It is a type of breathing in which the breathing rate is greater than usual.

Treatment for Apneustic Breathing

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Sudden onset of breathing difficulty is a life-threatening condition.(2)

If a person has difficulty in breathing, supplemental oxygen is given by the healthcare professional, and oxygen and cardiac condition are monitored.

In case of respiratory failure, a doctor may insert a tube into the airway through the nose or mouth. This helps in keeping the oxygen flowing through the lungs.

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Once respiration is stabilized, the underlying condition is diagnosed and treated.

Apneustic breathing is a rare and abnormal breathing pattern causing a person to take long gasping inhalations with sporadic and insufficient exhalations. If a person develops serious difficulty in breathing or stops breathing, emergency medical help should be taken. The brain cells begin to die within 5 minutes of lack of oxygen.(3) If someone’s breathing stops, CPR should be given to keep them alive till emergency medical support arrives. It can be helpful in saving a person’s life.

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