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11.4.1 Hyperventilation


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Hyperventilation is a condition in which you suddenly start to breathe very quickly. Healthy breathing occurs with a healthy balance between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. While hyperventilating, you upset this balance by exhaling more than you inhale. This causes a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide in the body.

Low carbon dioxide levels eventually lead to narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. This reduction in blood supply to the brain leads to symptoms like lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers. Severe hyperventilation can lead to loss of consciousness.

For some people, hyperventilation is rare, and only occurs as an occasional, panicked response to fear, stress, or a phobia. For others, this condition occurs regularly as a typical response to emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, or anger. When hyperventilation is a frequent occurrence, this is known as hyperventilation syndrome.

Hyperventilation is also known as:

  • rapid (or fast) deep breathing.
  • over breathing.
  • respiratory rate (or breathing)-rapid and deep.
Symptoms of Hyperventilation
  • Dizziness and light headedness.
  • Tingling in the hands, feet and around the face.
  • Stiffening of hands and fingers and increasing stiffness of other limbs and muscles.
  • Visual Disturbance including tunnelling or clouding of vision.
  • Hot or cold flushes.
  • Anxiety and worry causing a vicious circle of effect and cause.
  • Impaired performance.
  • Loss of consciousness leading to collapse. In the case of collapse respiration returns to normal and an individual recovers.
Preventing Hyperventilation

To prevent hyperventilation, it is helpful to learn breathing and relaxation techniques, such as:

  • meditation.
  • alternate nostril breathing, deep belly breathing, and full body breathing.
  • mind/body exercises, such as tai chi, yoga, or qi gong.

Exercising regularly (walking, running, bicycling, etc.) can also help to prevent hyperventilation.

Treating Hyperventilation

In acute cases of hyperventilation, it is important to try to stay calm. Having someone with you to coach you through the episode may be helpful. The goal of treatment during an episode is to increase carbon dioxide levels in your body and work to slow your breathing rate.

To help treat acute hyperventilation, you can:

  • breathe through pursed lips.
  • breathe into a paper bag or cupped hands.
  • attempt to breathe into your belly (diaphragm) rather than your chest.
  • cover your mouth and try alternative nostril breathing.

Alternative nostril breathing involves covering your mouth and alternating breathing through each nostril. For instance, with mouth covered, close the right nostril and breathe in through the left. Then alternate by closing the left nostril and breathing in through the right. Repeat this pattern until breathing has returned to normal.

If you have hyperventilation syndrome, you will want to figure out what is causing it. If you suffer from anxiety or stress, you may want to see a psychologist to help you understand and treat your condition. Learning stress reduction and breathing techniques will help to control your condition.

Treatment of Hypoxia and Hyperventilation

The symptoms of Hypoxia and Hyperventilation are so similar that to differentiate between them can be difficult. Use the following guidelines.

Above 10,000 ft:

  • Assume Hypoxia, Oxygen must be given to the sufferer. A descent below 10 000 ft is essential.

Below 10,000 ft:

  • Hypoxia should not be a problem except in those people who are old or have respiratory problems. The rate and depth of breathing should be slowed down. If hyperventilation is identified as the problem then re-breathing the expired air can help the recovery. Restricting the breathing by use of a sick-bag or Oxygen mask are common methods used.