Hypnotherapy can be useful in the management of anxiety, discomfort, and psychosomatic symptoms, all of which may contribute to a complaint of dyspnea. Therefore, instruction in self-hypnosis was offered to 17 children and adolescents with chronic dyspnea, which had not resolved despite medical therapy, and who were documented to have normal lung function at rest. This report documents the result of this intervention.


A retrospective chart review identified all patients followed by a single pediatric pulmonologist (R.D.A.), with a chief complaint of chronic dyspnea from April 1998 through December 1999. These patients had been evaluated and treated for medical diseases according to their history, physical examination, and laboratory investigations. The pulmonologist offered to teach self-hypnosis to all of these patients, who comprise the cohort in this report.

Chronic dyspnea was defined as recurrent difficulty breathing or shortness of breath at rest or with exertion, which had existed for at least 1 month in patients who had not suffered within a month from an acute pulmonary illness.

The pulmonologist was trained in hypnosis through his attendance at three 20-hour workshops.

Hypnosis was taught to individual patients in 1 or two 15- to 45-minute sessions. Patients were taught hypnotic self-induction techniques and imagery to achieve relaxation. Additionally, imagery relating to dyspnea was developed by coaching patients to change their imagined lung appearance from a dyspneic to a healthy state. Patients were encouraged to practice self-hypnosis regularly and to use lung imagery to eliminate dyspnea if it occurred.


Seventeen patients (13 males and 4 females) with chronic dyspnea were documented to have normal pulmonary function at rest. Their mean age was 13.4 years (range: 8–18 years). Twelve of the 17 previously were diagnosed with other conditions, such as allergies, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux. Fifteen of the 17 manifested at least 1 other symptom associated with their dyspnea, including an anxious appearance (4 patients); chest tightness or pain (5); cough (4); wheeze (3); difficulty with inspiration (2); hyperventilation (1); inspiratory noise, such as stridor, gasping, rasping, or squeak (8); dizziness (1); feeling something is stuck in the throat (2); parasthesias (4); and tachycardia (3).

Of the 17 patients, 2 complained of dyspnea at rest only, 13 complained of dyspnea with activity only, and 2 complained of dyspnea both at rest and with activity. Nine patients reported that they frequently needed to discontinue their physical activity because of dyspnea. The mean duration of their dyspnea before learning self-hypnosis was 2 years (range: 1 month to 5 years). The dyspnea was of <6 months duration for 4 of the patients.

For 9 of the 17 patients a potential psychosocial association with their dyspnea was identified: 3 developed symptoms at school only; 2 with exercise during competitive races only; 3 after a major disagreement between their parents; and 1 developed symptoms each time his family moved to a new neighborhood.

Before presentation, 7 of the 17 patients received chronic inhaled antiinflammatory therapy, and 3 were using inhaled albuterol, as needed.

All 17 patients had normal physical examinations, with the exception of healed scars on the chest and abdomen of 1 patient, a repaired cleft palate in 1 patient, and rhinitis in another. Four of the 17 underwent pulmonary function testing before and after exercise, 6 had chest radiographs, and 3 had electrocardiograms. All of these tests were normal.

A patient with a history of psychogenic cough declined to learn self-hypnosis. Thirteen of the remaining 16 patients were taught to use self-hypnosis in 1 session. A second session was provided to 3 patients within 2 months.

Thirteen of the 16 patients reported their dyspnea and any associated symptoms had resolved within 1 month of their final hypnosis instruction session. Eleven believed that resolution of their dyspnea was attributable to hypnosis, because their symptoms cleared immediately after they received hypnosis instruction (5 patients) or with its regular use (6). Two did not attribute resolution of dyspnea to hypnosis because they did not use it at home. The remaining 3 reported that their dyspnea had improved.

Patients were followed for a mean 9 months (range: 2–15 months) after their final hypnosis session. Ten of the 16 regularly used self-hypnosis at home for at least 1 month after the final hypnosis session. There was no recurrence of dyspnea, associated symptoms, or onset of new symptoms in patients in whom the dyspnea resolved.

Under supervision of the pediatric pulmonologist, 2 of 7 patients discontinued their chronic antiinflammatory therapy when they became asymptomatic after hypnosis. Subsequently, their pulmonary function remained normal.


Use of self-hypnosis was associated with resolution of dyspnea in 13 of 16 patients who had normal pulmonary function. The improvement may have been attributable to physiologic effects of hypnosis. Furthermore, some of the dyspnea-associated symptoms in these patients were suggestive of anxiety disorders, which are amenable to therapy with hypnosis.

Ten patients complained of difficulty with inspiration or made an inspiratory noise when they were dyspneic. It was suspected that many of these patients were suffering from vocal cord dysfunction, which is amenable to therapy with hypnosis. Because use of hypnosis was associated with rapid resolution of symptoms of most of these patients, there was no need to undertake additional investigations involving provocation of symptoms or laryngoscopic evaluation.

Although resolution or improvement of dyspnea cannot be attributed solely to hypnosis in this report, it seems that introduction of hypnosis was a key factor in view of the average 2-year duration of symptoms before its utilization. For the 4 patients who were symptomatic for a short duration (ie, for <6 months), it is possible that their improvement was caused by factors independent of hypnotherapy, such as change of weather.


A controlled prospective study using serial objective measures is recommended to substantiate this reported dramatic improvement of chronic dyspnea in pediatric patients who were taught self-hypnosis.

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