Hyperventilation is a phenomenon that often occurs in situations involving anxiety or panic. The individual that is affected is overcome by emotional stress and begins to hyperventilate by breathing faster and faster, thus exhaling more than inhaling to fill the perceived lack.  This causes a rapid reduction in carbon dioxide in the blood. Hyperventilation establishes a vicious circle in which the subject panics by breathing more heavily and in turn, the shortness of breath feeds the tension.


For some individuals, hyperventilation is rare and only occurs on occasion as a response to fear, stress or phobia. For others, this condition may occur on a regular basis as a typical response to emotional stress. In cases where hyperventilation is a frequent occurrence, this is known as hyperventilation syndrome. Severe hyperventilation can lead to loss of consciousness. It is important to seek medical attention when symptoms worsen, tend to last a longer period of time or interfere with daily activities. Consulting with a doctor to help get to the root of the problem is important in order to determine the most appropriate from of treatment and prevent episodes from reoccurring.



What are the symptoms associated with hyperventilation?

Signs and symptoms of hyperventilation can include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Feeling tense
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Chest tightness


If hyperventilation is not resolved within a few minutes, it can lead to more severe symptoms such as  feeling of confusion, dizziness, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. In such instances, medical treatment may be needed to reduce stress levels and prevent future episodes.



What to do:

In order to reduce oxygen introduced into the lungs, it is advisable for the individual to breathe inside a paper bag. This helps increase carbon dioxide levels and therefore, ensures muscle relaxation.  It is also suggested to alternate breathing by breathing into a paper bag one minute and breathing outside of the bag the next.  Another technique involves covering the mouth and one nostril and breathing through the other nostril. This mechanism is designed to reduce hyperventilation to a matter of minutes. Other methods can include:


  • Getting reassurance from a friend or family member that everything is going to be ok
  • Keeping calm by doing proper breathing exercises
  • Seeking a psychologist to discuss any issues relating to hyperventilation episodes
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as yoga, pilates or meditation
  • Exercising regularly


If these methods do not prevent over breathing, it is advisable to call for help. A doctor may recommend a beta-blocker medication or seeking a specialist to help determine the cause and provide other possible forms of treatment. 



What not to do:

In cases involving hyperventilation, an individual should not use a plastic bag. Such instances can lead to the bag sticking to the mouth and nostrils, in turn leading to choking. Also, individuals with heart or lung problems should not a plastic bag since it can lead to difficulty breathing or worsening of the situation. It is advised against holding the bag for the individual who is hyperventilating. They should hold the bag over their own mouth and nose and breathe at their own pace.


Disclaimer: The information in this article does not in any way replace the intervention or signs associated with this type of emergency, but rather only provides simple tips as how to keep the situation under control while waiting for a medical rescue team to arrive.