Hyperventilation is a condition in which you
start to breathe very fast. Healthy breathing occurs with a healthy balance
between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. You upset this
balance when you hyperventilate by exhaling more than you inhale. This causes a
rapid reduction in carbon dioxide in the body.
Low carbon dioxide levels 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. It
only occurs as an occasional, panicked response to fear, stress, or a phobia.
For others, this condition occurs as a response to emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, or anger. When hyperventilation is a
frequent occurrence, it’s known as hyperventilation syndrome.
Hyperventilation is also known as:
- rapid (or fast) deep breathing
- over breathing
- respiratory rate (or breathing) — rapid and deep
Common causes of hyperventilation
There are many factors that can lead to
hyperventilation. This condition most commonly results from anxiety, panic,
nervousness, or stress. It often takes the form of a panic attack.
Other causes include:
When to seek treatment for hyperventilation
Hyperventilation can be a serious issue.
Symptoms can last 20 to 30 minutes. You should seek treatment for
hyperventilation when the following symptoms occur:
- rapid, deep breathing for the first time
- hyperventilation that gets worse, even after trying home care
- feeling anxious, nervous, or tense
- frequent sighing or yawning
- a pounding and racing heartbeat
- problems with balance, lightheadedness, or vertigo
- numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or around the mouth
- chest tightness, fullness, pressure, tenderness, or pain
Other symptoms occur less often and it may
not be obvious they’re related to hyperventilation. Some of these symptoms are:
- gas, bloating, or burping
- vision changes, such as blurred or tunnel vision
- problems with concentration or memory
- loss of consciousness (fainting)
Make sure to let your doctor know if you have
recurring symptoms. You may have a condition called hyperventilation syndrome.
This syndrome is not well understood and has similar symptoms to panic
disorder. It’s often misdiagnosed as asthma.
It’s important to try to stay calm in acute
cases of hyperventilation. It may be helpful to have someone with you to coach
you through the episode. The goal of treatment during an episode is to increase
carbon dioxide levels in your body and work to slow your breathing rate.
You can try some immediate techniques to help
treat acute hyperventilation:
- Breathe through pursed lips.
- Breathe slowly into a paper bag or cupped hands.
- Attempt to breathe into your belly (diaphragm) rather than your
- Hold your breath for 10 to 15 seconds at a time.
You can also try alternate nostril breathing.
This 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
Some people may find that vigorous exercise,
such as a brisk walk or jog, while breathing in and out of your nose, helps
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.
Acupuncture may also be an effective
treatment for hyperventilation syndrome. Acupuncture is an alternative
treatment based on ancient Chinese medicine. It involves placing thin needles
into areas of the body to promote healing. One preliminary study found that acupuncture helped
reduce anxiety and the severity of hyperventilation.
Depending on the severity, your doctor may
also prescribe medication. Examples of medications for hyperventilation
You can learn breathing and relaxation
techniques to help prevent hyperventilation. These include:
- alternate nostril breathing, deep belly breathing, and full body
- mind/body exercises, such as tai chi, yoga, or qigong
Exercising regularly (walking, running,
bicycling, etc.) can also help to prevent hyperventilation.
Remember to stay calm if you experience any
of the symptoms of hyperventilation. Try the home care breathing methods to get
your breathing back on track and make sure to go see your doctor.
Hyperventilation is treatable, but you may
have underlying problems. Your doctor can help you get to the root of the
problem and find an appropriate treatment.