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Hyperventilation

What is Hyperventilation?

Hyperventilation is rapid or deep breathing, usually caused by anxiety or panic. This overbreathing, as it is sometimes called, may actually leave you feeling breathless. 

When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing may lead to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which causes many of the symptoms that you may feel if you hyperventilate. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Associated symptoms include: 

  • dizziness or lightheadedness 
  • shortness of breath 
  • belching, bloating, dry mouth 
  • weakness, confusion 
  • sleep disturbances 
  • numbness and tingling in your arms or around your mouth 
  • muscle spasms in hands and feet, chest pain, and palpitations. 

Treatment

The goal in treating hyperventilation is to raise the carbon dioxide level in the blood. There are several ways to do this: 

  • Reassurance from a friend or family member can help relax your breathing. Words like “you are doing fine,” “you are not having a heart attack,” and “you are not going to die” are very helpful. It is extremely important that the person helping you remain calm and deliver these messages with a soft, relaxed tone. 
  • To increase your carbon dioxide, you need to take in less oxygen. To accomplish this, you can breathe through pursed lips (as if you are blowing out a candle) or you can cover your mouth and one nostril, breathing through the other nostril. 
  • If anxiety or panic has been diagnosed, see a psychologist or psychiatrist to help you understand and treat your condition. 
  • Learn breathing exercises that help you relax and breathe from your diaphragm and abdomen, rather than your chest wall. 
  • Practice relaxation techniques regularly, such as progressive muscle relaxation or meditation. 
  • Exercise regularly. 

Hyperventilation is managed by physicians, nurses and other clinical staff in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine at Hopkins Children’s.


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