Hyperventilation: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Hyperventilation: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

stressful, hectic, or exciting situation can happen: a person panics and suddenly feels unable to breathe, as if the chest is suddenly too tight. And to help himself, he begins to breathe deeper and faster, raggedly and abnormally, for several minutes, until his fingers and hands cramp and, in the worst case, he loses consciousness and faints.

Causes and Statistics

This is called hyperventilation syndrome; about 5-10% of all adults are affected by this psychogenic disorder. It is preferably young adults in their second or third decade of life; this disorder rarely occurs for the first time in old age.

It tends to be assumed that young women are affected more often than men, but various studies havae shown that the syndrome is about equally common in both sexes. Anxiety, panic or acute stressful situations are common causes of hyperventilation syndrome.


Symptoms of hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is excessive breathing, which is breathing beyond what the body needs. This results in various disorders in the body, manifesting as symptoms. This is because more carbon dioxide is exhaled due to faster and deeper breathing, which leads to an increase in the pH value in the blood.

This worsens blood circulation, for example, in the hands, feet, and brain. Therefore, headaches, nervousness, dizziness co,ld, and clammy skin are also symptoms of hyperventilation. And there are various metabolic reactions, including a shift in the electrolytes in the blood.

Calcium is also affected by this, leading to over-excitability of the muscles and muscle cramps, for example, to the so-called pawed position of the hands. These are all symptoms of hyperventilation. There are also symptoms of sensory disturbances such as tingling, pins and needles or tremors. When breathing returns to normal, all changes and disturbances recede.

exclusion of other causes

Hyperventilation syndrome can be acute or chronic. In contrast to an acute syndrome, which the doctor can usually determine through thorough questioning, the complaints and symptoms of chronic hyperventilation are only diffuse and light since the body has usually gotten used to the changed conditions. However, the changes can then be detected via a blood gas analysis.

But before one can assume that it is hyperventilation syndrome with a psychogenic cause, physical illnesses that result in a need-based and meaningful increase in breathing must be ruled out. This form of sensible hyperventilation can be found, for example, in asthmacardiac insufficiency or electrolyte disorders.


How to help in an attack

The most important thing is to calm a person who is acutely hyperventilating while remaining calm yourself. One should try to explain to the person that the symptoms, such as tingling or pins and needles on the skin, are completely harmless and will go away when breathing is normal again.

It is beneficial to make eye contact with the person concerned; you should then pay attention to breathing calmly and firmly and give instructions in a clear voice, such as breathing out and breathing in. It is essential to extend the exhalation time; for example, inhale through your open mouth but exhale with your mouth closed and through your nose. If this does not help, it is sometimes advisable to have the hyperventilating person breathe into a paper or plastic bag held lightly in front of their nose and mouth.

If you don’t have a bag, try it with your cupped, held-up hand. This catches the excess carbon dioxide that is exhaled and can be reabsorbed by the body. This leads to a balancing of the acid-base balance, and the affected person’s condition returns to normal. But be careful because someone who feels short of breath holding a bag over their mouth and nose can trigger fear and panic again. Therefore, this should only happen if the person concerned is approachable and participates.

If nothing helps, a doctor who may give a sedative must be called. Danger! If the hyperventilation is due to a severe physical condition, do not breathe into a bag, as this could result in a life-threatening lack of oxygen.

Help through breathing techniques and behaviour modification.

Breathing training, during which those affected should learn to control their breathing even during an attack, is very important in therapy. Relaxation exercises such as yoga or autogenic training are also helpful during treatment. However, if hyperventilation occurs again and again in certain situations, or if the hyperventilation syndrome is chronic, psychotherapeutic or psychosomatic treatment should be sought to identify the cause and change the way you react with therapy.

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