What is hyperventilation?
Hyperventilation is also known as:
- Rapid (or fast) deep breathing
- Over breathing
- Respiratory rate (or breathing) — rapid and deep
It occurs when 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.
How common is hyperventilation?
In some cases, 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. This hyperventilation is extremely common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of 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 options
- 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.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes 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:
- Use of stimulants
- Drug overdose (aspirin overdose, for example)
- Severe pain
- Infection in the lungs
- Lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma
- Heart conditions, such as a heart attack
- Diabetic ketoacidosis (a complication of high blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes)
- Head injuries
- Traveling to elevations over 6,000 feet
- Hyperventilation syndrome
What increases my risk for hyperventilation?
Please consult your doctor for more information.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is hyperventilation diagnosed?
The doctor will rapidly examine the patient, especially breathing and circulation. If the doctor does not find anything immediately life-threatening, the doctor will ask about medical history and do a physical exam.
Certain tests may be ordered to explore other causes of the patient’s signs and symptoms. These tests are often ordered because the only way to confirm a person has hyperventilation syndrome is to eliminate other causes. The patient may have an IV started and may be hooked up to a monitor during the evaluation. The doctor may order these tests:
- Arterial blood sample
- Other blood tests
- Chest X-ray
- Ventilation/perfusion scan
- Chest CT scan
- Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)
If the doctor suspects the patient may have a condition more serious than hyperventilation syndrome, the doctor may recommend that hospitalization for further tests and observation. Life-threatening conditions associated with rapid or deep breathing include:
- Heart problems
- Lung problems
- Nervous system problems
- Drug reactions and poisons
- Liver disorders
How is hyperventilation treated?
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 chest.
- 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 normal.
Some people may find that vigorous exercise, such as a brisk walk or jog, while breathing in and out of your nose, helps with hyperventilation.
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 include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Doxepin (Silenor)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hyperventilation?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hyperventilation:
- Alternate nostril breathing, deep belly breathing, and full body breathing
- Mind/body exercises, such as tai chi, yoga, or qigong
- Exercising regularly (walking, running, bicycling, etc.)
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.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Hyperventilation. https://www.healthline.com/symptom/hyperventilation. Accessed October 16, 2017
Hyperventilation. https://www.emedicinehealth.com/hyperventilation/page3_em.htm. Accessed October 16, 2017
Review Date: October 31, 2017 | Last Modified: October 31, 2017