Hyperventilation is breathing that is deeper
and more rapid than normal. It causes a decrease in the amount of a gas in the
blood (called carbon dioxide, or CO2). This decrease may make you feel
lightheaded, have a rapid heartbeat, and be short of breath. It also can lead
to numbness or tingling in your hands or feet,
anxiety, fainting, and sore chest muscles.
Some causes of sudden hyperventilation include anxiety, fever, some
medicines, intense exercise, and emotional
stress. Hyperventilation also can occur because of
problems caused by asthma or emphysema or after a head injury. But it occurs
most often in people who are nervous or tense, breathe shallowly, and have
other medical conditions, such as lung diseases or
panic disorder. Women experience hyperventilation more
often than men. Most people who have problems with hyperventilation are 15 to 55 years old. Hyperventilation may occur when people travel to
elevations over 6000 ft (2000 m). Symptoms can be similar to symptoms that are caused by another,
more serious medical problem, such as a lung problem.
hyperventilation is usually triggered by acute stress, anxiety, or emotional
upset. Chronic (recurring) hyperventilation may be an ongoing problem for
people with other diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, or lung cancer.
Many women have problems with hyperventilation during pregnancy, but it
usually goes away on its own after delivery.
In many cases,
hyperventilation can be controlled by learning proper breathing
Symptoms of hyperventilation
hyperventilation usually last 20 to 30 minutes and may include:
Feeling anxious, nervous, or
Frequent sighing or yawning.
Feeling that you
can't get enough air (air hunger) or need to sit up to breathe.
Hyperventilation is not a disease, but you may need to be
checked by your doctor if you have repeated episodes of hyperventilation
symptoms. If you have recurring symptoms, you might be diagnosed with a
condition called hyperventilation syndrome (HVS).
hyperventilation depends on the cause. Home treatment is usually all that is
needed for mild hyperventilation symptoms. Medical treatment may be needed for
hyperventilation symptoms that are moderate to severe, that last for long
periods of time, that come back, or that
interfere with your daily activities. Medical
treatment usually includes reassurance, stress reduction measures, breathing
lessons, or medicine.
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Home treatment may help you control
your breathing and stop
hyperventilation. First, sit down and concentrate on
Breathe through pursed lips, as if you are
whistling, or pinch one nostril and breathe through your nose. It is harder to
hyperventilate when you breathe through your nose or pursed lips, because you
can't move as much air.
Slow your breathing to 1 breath every 5
seconds, or slow enough that symptoms gradually go away.
belly-breathing, which fills your lungs fully, slows your breathing rate, and
helps you relax.
Place one hand on your belly just below the
ribs. Place the other hand on your chest. You can do this while standing, but
it may be more comfortable while you are lying on the floor with your knees
Take a deep breath through your nose. As you inhale, let
your belly push your hand out. Keep your chest still.
As you exhale
through pursed lips, feel your hand go down. Use the hand on your belly to help
you push all the air out. Take your time exhaling.
steps 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
Always try measures to control your breathing or
belly-breathe first. If these techniques don't work and you don't have other
health problems, you might try breathing in and out of a paper bag that covers
your nose and mouth.
Using a paper bag
Use a paper bag to control your breathing. Take 6 to 12 easy, natural breaths, with a
small paper bag held over your mouth and nose. Then remove the bag from your
nose and mouth and take easy, natural breaths.
Symptoms do not improve with home treatment
Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
You may be able to avoid
Breathe through your nose. It is harder to
hyperventilate when your mouth is closed, because you can't move as much air
through your nose.
Loosen your clothing. Tight belts and
waistbands, girdles, bras, and skintight jeans can all restrict breathing and
cause shallow, upper-chest breathing.
belly-breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) techniques,
and practice them when you are not hyperventilating so that you can use the
techniques when you need them. People who hyperventilate usually take shallow
breaths, filling only their upper chest when they inhale.
different relaxation techniques and see what works best for you. For more
information, see the topic
Talk to friends, family
members, or a counselor to help you relieve anxiety. Keep a journal to help you
focus on your problems and find workable solutions.
Eat a healthy
mix of foods. Watch out for caffeine: drink less coffee, tea, and soda, and do
not eat as much chocolate. For more information, see the topic
Exercise. Regular aerobic
exercise forces you to take full breaths and helps you to reduce anxiety that
contributes to hyperventilation. For more information, see the topic
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.