I Want To Build My Breathing

Doctor with singing ensemble

Dear Doctor Jahn,

I’ve had an operation. Two months later and I get breathless on exertion and sometimes make involuntary gasps. What is the best way to build my breathing – just deep breathing and exercise? – I want to get back to singing! The operation involved a ventilator which left some scarring and water on my lungs (laparotomy followed by an abdominal drain insertion due to sepsis.)


Dear Theresa,

Wow, you’ve had quite a serious problem! Hopefully you have fully recovered from your illness. The complete answer to your query would be very long, so let me just make some suggestions:

First, you need to make sure that all medical issues are out of the way. Is there any residual fluid or scarring in the lungs? I suggest that you first see a pulmonologist to make sure your lungs are fully functional – this might require a pulmonary function test.

Next, I wonder whether your surgery was done laparoscopically or with an open abdominal incision? If there were any incisions thorough the abdominal muscles, that might effect your ability to contract them during exhalation and vocalization.

Next I wonder about what has happened inside your abdomen. Do you have any scarring, adhesions, or discomfort on deep breathing or pushing? Have you lost a significant amount of weight in the course of your illness? All of these issues might affect your breathing and your vocal support.

Once all of these possibilities have been addressed, you should consider deep breathing exercises, and possibly yoga breathing to refocus your breathing. And then, it’s time to reconnect with a good voice therapist to address issues like reconnecting the breath to the voice and support.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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