Hyperventilation: symptoms, causes and treatment

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If you are anxious or very tense, this can cause many complaints, including hyperventilation. If you hyperventilate, this means that you breathe too quickly and/or too deeply. As a result, too much oxygen is absorbed into the blood in a short time and too much carbon dioxide is exhaled. As a result, body processes are disrupted because there is too little carbon dioxide in the blood. The complaints that then occur are very frightening.


Hyperventilation can happen to anyone at some point in their life. For others it recurs regularly. Hyperventilation is not dangerous, but for those who experience it it is very drastic and appears threatening.


Breathing comes naturally, we don’t have to think about it and the body adapts breathing to the activity we perform. When you sleep you breathe calmly, when you are running you breathe faster because the body needs more oxygen. With every breath you breathe, oxygen comes in and you breathe out carbon dioxide. Sometimes breathing goes wrong. This can be done by;

  • Fear
  • Tension
  • Overload
  • Over-fatigue

In these cases, the body can produce adrenaline (a stress hormone), which prepares your body for a major effort, your heart beats faster and your breathing becomes faster.

What signs and symptoms do you experience with hyperventilation?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Tight feeling in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling of fingers, feet or mouth
  • Perspiration
  • Reluctant bending and stretching of wrists and ankles due to muscle spasm

After the attack, effects can still occur such as;

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Aching back
  • Fluish feeling

If someone does not know that he is having an attack of hyperventilation, he will often panic even more and therefore start breathing even deeper and faster. This will increase the attack even more.

Causes of hyperventilation

  • Stress
  • Psychological pressure
  • Effort
  • Poisoning by, for example, aspirin
  • Stay at high altitude

Managing Hyperventilation

When experiencing hyperventilation, it is important to stay calm and try the following techniques to help manage the symptoms:

  • Take slow, deep breaths: Focus on taking slow, deep breaths through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth. This can help regulate your breathing and decrease the feeling of breathlessness.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Engage in activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation to help reduce anxiety and stress levels.
  • Use a paper bag: Breathing into a paper bag can help restore the balance of carbon dioxide in your blood. However, it is important to use this technique under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  • Seek professional help: If hyperventilation occurs frequently or is causing significant distress, it is important to consult a healthcare professional. They can help determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment or therapy.

Preventing Hyperventilation

While it may not always be possible to prevent hyperventilation, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of experiencing an episode:

  • Manage stress: Implement stress-reduction techniques such as exercise, meditation, or talking to a therapist to help manage anxiety and stress levels.
  • Breathing exercises: Practice deep breathing exercises regularly to strengthen your respiratory muscles and improve breathing control.
  • Identify triggers: Be aware of situations or activities that may trigger hyperventilation and try to avoid or minimize exposure to them.
  • Seek support: If you have a history of anxiety or panic attacks, consider joining support groups or seeking therapy to learn coping mechanisms and strategies.

What can you do to stop an attack of hyperventilation?

  • Try not to panic, this will only make the symptoms worse
  • Try to breathe slowly and shallowly, or hold your breath for as long as possible. If this does not work, breathe in and out into a bag, the carbon dioxide level in the blood will rise again and the symptoms will disappear quickly.

When is it wise to go to the doctor with complaints?

  • If you are not sure that the complaints are caused by hyperventilation
  • If you have tried everything, but the complaints continue
  • If tightness in the chest does not go away

As always, if you do not trust it, contact your doctor, he/she can tell you what to do.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hyperventilation

1. What is hyperventilation?

Answer: Hyperventilation is a condition characterized by rapid and deep breathing, often exceeding the body’s metabolic needs. It can result in an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

2. What causes hyperventilation?

Answer: Hyperventilation can be caused by various factors, including anxiety or panic attacks, stress, respiratory disorders, high altitudes, fever, certain medications, or a rapid increase in physical activity. It can also be a response to low oxygen levels or high carbon dioxide levels in the body.

3. What are the symptoms of hyperventilation?

Answer: Symptoms of hyperventilation may include rapid breathing, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, tingling or numbness in the extremities, chest pain, a sense of suffocation, and feelings of anxiety or panic. In severe cases, it can lead to fainting or loss of consciousness.

4. How does hyperventilation affect the body?

Answer: Hyperventilation can disrupt the balance of gases in the blood. It leads to excessive elimination of carbon dioxide, which can result in a condition called respiratory alkalosis, characterized by elevated blood pH. This can cause various physiological changes, such as constriction of blood vessels, decreased calcium ion concentration, and altered oxygen delivery to tissues.

5. How can hyperventilation be managed or treated?

Answer: The treatment of hyperventilation depends on the underlying cause. In cases related to anxiety or stress, techniques such as deep breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and cognitive-behavioral therapy may be helpful. If hyperventilation is due to an underlying medical condition, it is important to address and manage that condition. In some cases, breathing into a paper bag or re-breathing into cupped hands can help restore the balance of gases in the blood.

6. Can hyperventilation be dangerous?

Answer: While hyperventilation itself is not usually life-threatening, it can be distressing and may exacerbate symptoms in individuals with certain medical conditions. In rare cases, severe hyperventilation can lead to loss of consciousness, seizures, or injuries resulting from falls. It is important to seek medical attention if hyperventilation episodes are frequent, prolonged, or accompanied by concerning symptoms.

7. Can hyperventilation be prevented?

Answer: Preventing hyperventilation involves identifying and managing its triggers. For individuals prone to anxiety or panic attacks, stress management techniques, therapy, and relaxation exercises may help reduce the likelihood of hyperventilation episodes. It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, manage respiratory conditions, and seek appropriate medical care when needed.

These are some common questions about hyperventilation. If you have any further inquiries or need more detailed information, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional or seek guidance from experts in the field of respiratory medicine or psychology.