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Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is the condition of breathing deeper or faster than normal. It is the body's natural response to any condition calling for greater oxygen supply or the need to rid the body of excess carbon dioxide, such as during vigorous exercise. When hyperventilation occurs without any need for this extra breathing it is called the hyperventilation syndrome. Since this condition causes rapid changes in normal blood chemistry, certain bothersome symptoms may occur. You can feel dizzy or tingly in the fingertips or experience chest pains from muscle contractions. In the worst cases there may be spasms of the wrists or feet, and even decreased consciousness or seizures.

Hyperventilation syndrome is caused by excess anxiety or emotional stress. In some people it is a manifestation of panic attacks. It usually will stop if the underlying stress can be identified and resolved. Fortunately it is not a life-threatening problem, but it might feel that way.

Home Care for Hyperventilation

  • During an attack, you can reduce the intensity of your symptoms by breathing slowly into a paper bag. This limits the amount of air your lungs are actually exchanging, and it works well if you seal the bag firmly around your mouth and nose. Breathe into the bag for a couple of minutes, then breathe room air for half a minute. Repeat this procedure until you begin to feel better, usually a minimum of 10 minutes. Keep using the bag on and off until you have lost the feeling of need for more air.

  • After treatment, resume normal routine activities as soon as possible.

  • Reduce caffeine consumption and avoid alcohol.

  • Try to identify and resolve sources of stress. This often requires that you seek the advice and support of trusted friends or family members, or a competent professional counselor or established clergy with counseling experience. Look for the positive qualities in yourself and others.

  • Medication is seldom necessary for hyperventilation episodes, although sometimes the short-term use of anti-anxiety medication is helpful in persistent or unusual cases. Your personal physician can discuss the proper role of medications for this condition, and it is important that you follow-up with your physician if this problem continues. We will help you find one.

 

Call or Return If Any of the Following Occur:

  • Hyperventilation does not subside with self-treatment.

  • Physical illness such as fever, fainting or seizures is present.

  • Your symptoms are clearly different than previous episodes.

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