Hyperventilation is basically a condition in which the individual starts to breathe in a quick manner. Normal breathing involves a balance between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. When an individual hyperventilates, the balance is disrupted by exhaling more than what is inhaled, thus resulting to a rapid reduction of carbon dioxide in the body.
Low levels of carbon dioxide will lead to the constriction of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. The reduction in the blood supply to the brain causes symptoms such as tingling in the extremities and lightheadedness. In severe cases, it can cause loss of consciousness.
In some individuals, hyperventilation rarely occurs and only as a response to fear, phobia or stress. For some, it can occur regularly as a response to emotional stress such as anger, anxiety or depression. Once hyperventilation occurs frequently, it is called as hyperventilation syndrome.
Causes of hyperventilation
There are various factors that can lead to hyperventilation. The most common causes include panic, anxiety, stress or nervousness. Take note that it often takes the form of a panic attack. Other causes include bleeding, severe pain, drug overdose, pregnancy, lung diseases and heart conditions.
When to consult a doctor
In some cases, hyperventilation can be considered as a serious condition. It is important to seek immediate treatment for hyperventilation if the following symptoms occur:
- Fast, deep breathing for the first time
- Hyperventilation that worsens even after home care treatments
Treatment for hyperventilation
In case of acute hyperventilation, it is important to calm the individual. Staying with the individual and reassuring him/her is very helpful. The main objective of the treatment during an episode is to increase the level of carbon dioxide in the body and work to slow down the breathing.
When treating acute cases of hyperventilation, the following basic care measures must be taken into consideration.
- Instruct the individual to breathe through lips that are pursed
- Instruct the individual to breathe in a paper bag or hands that are cupped
- Encourage the individual to cover the mouth and try alternative nostril breathing
- Encourage to breathe into the belly instead of the chest
With alternative nostril breathing, it involves covering the mouth and alternating breathing via each nostril. This must be repeated until the breathing returned to normal. In case of hyperventilation syndrome, it is important to determine the cause. If the individual suffers from stress or anxiety, professional help might be required to fully understand and treat the condition. Stress reduction and breathing techniques can greatly help out the condition.
In order to prevent hyperventilation, it will surely help out a lot to learn breathing and relaxation techniques such as meditation, mind/body exercises such as yoga or tai chi and alternate nostril breathing. Even regular exercise can help prevent hyperventilation.