Glossopharyngeal breathing, also known as frog breathing or just GPB, is a method of breathing that people with weakened breathing muscles can use without mechanical intervention. Obviously this is no replacement for volume ventilators but it can be used in the event of ventilator failure or accidental disconnect. The technique is not as effective for vent users with a tracheostomy because the air may leak from the stoma but can still have some effect.
GPB works by sucking air into your mouth then using your tongue to push the air through the voice box while holding your breath. This is repeated in succession until you have taken in a full breath of air. Once you are done pumping in the air you exhale normally. It can be difficult to teach and learn but once you have it down it can offer many benefits.
GPB was first observed with polio patient by a doctor at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in LA back in the late 1940’s. The patient had inadvertently learned to breathe in this alternate method. The doctor and his colleague decided to teach other patients the technique and it allowed the patients to be out of their “iron lung” respirators for longer periods of time. Strangely enough I also accidentally learned how to do it on my own. Only with me I had already heard about it so I knew what it was.
Competitive free divers have been known to use GPB to over inflate their lungs to allow for longer and deeper dives.
Besides using GPB in an emergency situation it can also be used for other purposes. For example, if I need to produce a cough I can completely fill my lungs to normal vital capacity and produce an effective cough. I know this because I have been tested by my pulmonologist during a pulmonary function test. Also, if I need to call for help I can use it to be heard. Throughout the day I will also use GPB as an exercise to stretch my lungs to keep them elastic. In the mornings before I am in my wheelchair with my vent turned off I use GPB to supplement my non assisted breathing.
To sum it up GPB cannot replace the use of a ventilator for us but in a pinch it can help buy some time until you are reconnected to your vent.
Just a word of caution: I am not completely ventilator dependent so I am able to go without it for short periods of time. Consult with your doctor before attempting to use GPB. Never use GPB to breathe in place of your ventilator if you require 24 hour ventilation.
Originally posted: Apr 27, 2010