“Hyperpnea” is the term for breathing in more air than you normally do. It’s your body’s response to needing more oxygen.

You may need more oxygen because you’re:

  • exercising
  • ill
  • at a high altitude

Keep reading to learn about the mechanism and causes of hyperpnea, and how it differs from other types of breathing.

Fast facts about breathing

  • Breathing brings in oxygen from the air. In a process called respiration, blood passing through your lungs distributes the oxygen to cells throughout your body. Your cells use the oxygen for energy.
  • Your breathing is usually an automatic process controlled by your autonomic nervous system. When your brain senses that you need more oxygen, it sets the appropriate muscles into action to pull in and push out more air.
  • A normal breathing rate at rest is 12 to 20 breaths per minute.
  • Men and women have different mechanics of breathing, which may affect their exercise endurance.
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In hyperpnea, you take deeper breaths. Sometimes you may also breathe faster.

Hyperpnea is your body’s response to signals from your brain, blood vessels, and joints to adjust your breathing. Deeper breaths provide an increase in oxygen intake.

Hyperpnea can also be deliberately used as a calming technique or to help you improve your breathing if you have a lung-related disease.

Hyperpnea can occur as a normal response to your activity or environment, or it may be associated with disease.

Here are some of the situations involving hyperpnea:

  • Exercise. Exercise or physical activity is the most frequent situation for hyperpnea. Your body automatically initiates the hyperpnea.
  • High altitude. Hyperpnea can be a normal response to the need to increase your oxygen intake when you are at higher altitudes. If you’re hiking, skiing, or engaged in other activities at higher altitudes, you may need even more oxygen than at lower altitudes.
  • Anemia. Anemia may be associated with hyperpnea because the blood has a decreased ability to transport oxygen.
  • Cold air exposure. Exposure to cold temperatures outdoors or from air conditioning indoors can result in hyperpnea.
  • Asthma. Asthma may involve hyperpnea as way of taking in more oxygen when you’re short of breath. A 2016 study showed that exercise training involving deliberate hyperpnea may help improve the lung and airway problems in asthma.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD may involve hyperpnea. A 2015 study of controlled hyperpnea suggested that it can improve the respiratory muscles of people with COPD.
  • Metabolic acidosis. Acidosis involves the buildup of too much acid in your body’s fluids. Hyperpnea is a symptom.
  • Panic disorder. Panic attacks may involve hyperpnea.

You automatically breathe more deeply during exercise or strenuous activity. However, the exact mechanism of hyperpnea during exercise has been the subject of much research.

There’s still controversy on how exercise and hyperpnea are related.

The debate revolves around how your body adjusts to the increased demand for oxygen during hyperpnea and exercise when there’s no change measured in your blood gas composition.

Does it result from a signal from your blood to your brain, or from muscle or brain sensors in advance of blood-borne signals? More research is needed to answer this question.

High altitude exercise

The lower air pressure at high altitudes can result in lower oxygen saturation in your blood. Normal saturation is 95 percent to 100 percent. Below 90 percent is abnormal.

For this reason, it’s important to acclimatize yourself to the higher altitude slowly to avoid getting altitude sickness.

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Hyperpnea during exercise or used deliberately to improve the condition of your lungs or to calm yourself isn’t dangerous.

But some people who exercise very strenuously, especially for long periods or in the cold, may develop bronchoconstriction. This condition causes your air passages to narrow.

Usually, bronchoconstriction goes away when you stop exercising. See your healthcare provider if this becomes chronic.

People with a lung condition, such as asthma, should take care that exercise doesn’t trigger bronchoconstriction.

Hyperpnea is usually normal and doesn’t require treatment.

Any treatment for hyperpnea depends on the underlying condition. If you have a heart condition, acidosis, or infection that is limiting the amount of oxygen you’re getting, your healthcare provider will treat that condition.

Hyperpnea is breathing more deeply but not necessarily faster. It happens when you exercise or when you’re doing something strenuous.

Hyperventilation is breathing very fast and deeply, and exhaling more air than you take in. This reduces the normal level of carbon dioxide in your body, causing lightheadedness and other symptoms.

Hyperventilation can occur under many conditions, including:

If hyperventilation recurs, see your healthcare provider.

Hyperpnea is breathing more deeply and sometimes faster than usual. It’s normal during exercise or exertion.

Tachypnea is rapid, shallow breathing, when you take more than the normal amount of breaths per minute.

Tachypnea isn’t normal. If you’re experiencing tachypnea, you should seek medical help, especially if you have other symptoms, such as chest pain or lightheadedness.

Hyperpnea is breathing deeply, a normal response to exertion requiring more oxygen.

Hypopnea is the partial blockage of air when you’re sleeping. It often occurs with apnea, which is the total blockage of air when you’re sleeping.

In hypopnea, your airflow decreases for at least 10 seconds when you breathe, decreasing the amount of oxygen getting to your blood.

Seek treatment if you have symptoms of hypopnea.

Types of breathingCharacteristics
ApneaApnea is breathing that stops briefly during sleep. Oxygen to your brain is decreased. It requires treatment.
BradypneaBradypnea is slower-than-normal breathing. It can be caused by drugs, poisons, injury, or medical conditions, and requires medical evaluation.
DyspneaIn dyspnea, breath is labored, and you feel short of breath. It can be normal, but if it occurs suddenly, you may need emergency care.
EupneaEupnea is normal breathing.
HyperpneaHyperpnea is breathing more deeply. It happens automatically during exercise, but may result from a medical condition.
HyperventilationHyperventilation is breathing deep and fast, letting out more air than you take in. It has many causes, some requiring medical evaluation.
HypopneaHypopnea is the partial blockage of air, usually when you’re sleeping. It requires medical attention.
TachypneaTachypnea is rapid, shallow breathing. It indicates that you need more oxygen. It can have many causes and requires medical treatment.

Hyperpnea is breathing more deeply but not necessarily faster.

It’s a normal response to exercise or physical exertion in other activities, although the mechanism isn’t fully understood.

Hyperpnea can also result from an underlying medical condition that limits your body’s ability to take in oxygen. It can also occur when you’re in high altitudes.

Treatment for hyperpnea depends on the underlying condition. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about hyperpnea.