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Hyperventilation

INTRODUCTION

Hyperventilation is breathing faster and/or deeper than normal at rest. This causes too much carbon dioxide to be exhaled.

As a result, levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and brain tissue drop.

Feeling very anxious or having a panic attack is the usual reason that you may hyperventilate. However, rapid breathing may be a symptom of a disease, such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Heart or lung disorder
  • Infection

Unless you have experienced this before and have been reassured by your doctor that your hyperventilation can be self treated .

 

SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing.
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Dry mouth, difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling like you can’t get enough air.
  • Tingling and numbness in the arms, legs, and around the mouth.
  • Sense of doom.
  • Faint.
  • Symptoms usually last 20 to 30 minutes, but seem to last hours.
  • Though scary, hyperventilation is not usually dangerous.

COMPLICATIONS

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You are experiencing rapid breathing for the first time. (This is a medical emergency and you should be taken to the emergency room right away.)
  • You are ventilating, and at the same time are in pain, having fever or bleeding.
  • Your hyperventilation continues or gets worse, even with home treatment.
  • Your hyperventilation is accompanied by other symptoms.

TREATMENT

Self-care may be enough to treat hyperventilation, however, if it persists or occurs with other symptoms, seek medical care.

 

Self-care / First aid for hyperventilation:

  • Open up a small paper bag.
  • Hold the bag and loosely cover your nose and mouth with it.
  • Breathe slowly into the bag.
  • Rebreathe the air in the bag. Do this about 10 times.
  • Set the bag aside. Breathe normally for a couple of minutes.
  • Repeat the steps above for up to 15 minutes.
  • Try to breathe slowly.
  • Focus on taking one breath every 5 seconds.

PREVENTION

Home Care

Your doctor will look for other medical illnesses before diagnosing hyperventilation syndrome.

If your doctor has explained that you hyperventilate from anxiety, stress, or panic, there are steps you can take at home.

You, your friends, and family can learn techniques to stop you from hyperventilating when it happens and help to prevent future attacks.

If you start hyperventilating, the goal is to raise the carbon dioxide level in your blood, which will put an end to most of your symptoms. There are several ways to do this:

  • Get reassurance from a friend or family member to help relax your breathing. Words like “you are doing fine,” “you are not having a heart attack,” and “you are not going to die” are very helpful. It is extremely important that the person helping you remain calm and deliver these messages with a soft, relaxed tone.
  • To increase your carbon dioxide, you need to take in less oxygen. To accomplish this, you can breathe through pursed lips (as if you are blowing out a candle) or you can cover your mouth and one nostril, and breathe through the other nostril.
  • Look at factors in your lifestyle that cause you stress and anxiety, modify or remove them if possible. Sometimes confronting people and talking over will help.
  • Be less of a perfectionist. Keep a positive outlook on life, and be moderate and less intense in your activities.

Learn to relax your mind and body. Seek out special relaxation programs such as yoga, breathing technique and meditation

 

REHABILITATION

Over the long term, there are several important steps to help you stop overbreathing:

  • If you have been diagnosed with anxiety or panic, see a psychologist or psychiatrist to help you understand and treat your condition.
  • Learn breathing exercises that help you relax and breathe from your diaphragm and abdomen, rather than your chest wall.
  • Practice relaxation techniques regularly, such as progressive muscle relaxation or meditation.
  • Exercise regularly.

If these methods alone are not preventing your overbreathing, your doctor may recommend a beta blocker medication.

 

REFERENCES

  1. John Murtagh’s Patient Education, Fifth edition, page 202.
  2. Duffin J, Phillipson EA. Hypoventilation and hyperventilation syndromes. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al. Murray& Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 78.
  3. Winter AO, Purcell TB. Somatoform disorders. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 111.
  4. John Murtagh, General Practice, Third Edition, page 1257.
Last Reviewed : 31 May 2012
Content Writer : Dr. Norizzati Bukhary bt. Ismail Bukhary
Accreditor : Dr. Rosnah bte. Ramly