Hyperventilation is characterised by a rapid or deep breathing and only occurs as an occasional, panicked response to fear, stress, or a phobia.
Hyperventilation is characterised by a rapid or deep breathing that usually occurs with anxiety or panic. Also known as overbreathing, the condition can leave you breathless.
The symptoms of hyperventilation are caused when excessive breathing creates low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. 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.
Hyperventilation might occur to some people only occasionally as a panicked response to fear stress or phobia. While for others, this condition is typical and accompanies most emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, or anger.
Common Causes of Hyperventilation
Usually, a panic attack or anxiety is the causes behind overbreathing. However, some other factors can also be attributed to the condition such as:
- The use of stimulants.
- Drug overdose (aspirin overdose, for example).
- Severe pain.
- An infection in the lungs.
- Lung diseases, such as asthma or COPD.
- Conditions of the heart, such as a heart attack.
You will need medical treatment for hyperventilation if it becomes a serious issue. If you observe rapid, deep breathing for the first time, pain, fever, or bleeding, you should seek treatment.
Treatment of Hyperventilation
Stay calm even if your hyperventilation turns acute. It will be helpful to have a person who could coach you through the episode. The treatment for overbreathing will aim at increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in your blood so that the breathing rate can be worked to slow.
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 alternate nostril breathing.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has suggested that acupuncture may also be an effective treatment for hyperventilation syndrome.
Prevention of Hyperventilation
To prevent hyperventilation, it is helpful to learn breathing and relaxation techniques, such as:
- Alternate nostril breathing, deep belly breathing, and full body breathing
- Mind/body exercises, such as tai chi, yoga, or qi gong
- Regular exercise like brisk walking, running, bicycling, and swimming can also help in preventing hyperventilation.
You can also manage this breathing disorder with home care. In case anxiety is causing hyperventilation to you, you must seek the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist to help you understand and treat your condition. You must also learn some breathing exercises to help yourself relax. If these methods alone are not preventing your overbreathing, your doctor may recommend a beta blocker medication.
Read more articles on Stress Management.
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