Hyperventilation is a medical term for unusually rapid breathing that is often caused by stress, anxiety, or sudden panic attacks. Breathing excessively fast creates low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, which can lead to vertigo, fainting, weakness, confusion, agitation, panic, or chest pain. If you frequently experience hyperventilation, which you should not confuse with increased breathing rate from exercise, you may have hyperventilation syndrome. This syndrome can often be overcome at home with the following helpful strategies, although medical intervention is sometimes necessary.
Part 1 of 2: Prevent Hyperventilation at Home
Step 1. Breathe through your nose
Breathing through your nose is an effective technique to combat hyperventilation, as you simply cannot circulate as much air through your nose as it is through your mouth. Therefore, nasal breathing reduces the respiratory rate. It may take some getting used to and you may need to clear your nostrils first, but breathing through your nose is more efficient and filters dust and other particles out of the air better than breathing through your mouth.
- Breathing through your nose will also help eliminate some common abdominal symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome, such as bloating, belching, and gas.
- Breathing through your nose will also help combat dry mouth and bad breath, which are also associated with mouth breathing and chronic hyperventilation.
Step 2. Take "deep abdominal breaths"
People with chronic hyperventilation often breathe shallowly through their mouths and only fill the upper chest (upper lung fields) when inhaling. This is inefficient and does not get enough oxygen into the blood, which increases the respiratory rate. Persistent shallow breathing also causes too much carbon dioxide to be exhaled, which creates a negative vicious cycle and leads to even more hyperventilation. Instead, breathe in through your nose and practice using your diaphragm, which will help bring air into the lower fields of your lungs and supply more oxygen to your blood. This technique is often called "abdominal breathing" (or diaphragmatic breathing) because the lower abdomen will protrude outwards as you put pressure on the diaphragm muscle.
- Practice taking deep breaths through your nose and watch the belly swell before the chest expands. You will notice a relaxing sensation and a reduction in your respiratory rate after a few minutes.
- Also try to hold your breath in your lungs for a little longer (for about three seconds to start).
Step 3. Loosen your clothes
From a practical point of view, it is difficult to breathe deeply if you have very tight clothing, so loosen the belt and make sure to wear baggy pants, especially to facilitate abdominal breathing. Also, keep clothing loose around the chest and neck, including shirts and bras. If you have a history of hyperventilation, avoid bowties, scarves, and turtlenecks, as they can make you feel tight and trigger an attack.
- Tight clothing can contribute to the feeling of suffocation in sensitive (or phobic) people, so wearing loose-fitting clothing is an important strategy for some.
- Clothing made from soft fibers (cotton or silk) can also be helpful, as harder fabrics like wool can cause skin irritation, discomfort, overheating, and agitation in some people.
Step 4. Try relaxation techniques
Because stress and anxiety appear to be the main underlying causes of chronic hyperventilation syndrome, and because they have been widely documented to trigger acute episodes, a wise strategy is to better control how you react to stress. Stress-relieving practices such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga go a long way in promoting relaxation and better emotional health. Yoga, in particular, not only consists of placing the body in various postures, but also incorporates breathing exercises, which are especially important to combat hyperventilation. Also, try to deal with the stress in your life by making positive changes and training yourself to control anxious thoughts about work, finances, or relationships.
- Excessive stress or anxiety causes the release of hormones that prepare your body to "fight or flight," including altered breathing and heart rate.
- Having the necessary quality of sleep is also important to better cope with stress. Chronic lack of sleep damages the immune system and often causes anxiety and feelings of depression.
Step 5. Get some aerobic exercise
Regular (daily) aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is another method to help you avoid hyperventilation by forcing you to breathe more deeply, which can improve breathing. Regular aerobic exercise also promotes weight loss, improves cardiovascular health, increases physical fitness, and tends to reduce anxiety that contributes to hyperventilation. Any continuous movement that increases the heart and breathing rate to the point where it is difficult to carry on a normal conversation is considered aerobic exercise.
- Other healthy examples of aerobic exercise include swimming, cycling, and jogging.
- Increased respiratory rate due to aerobic exercise (characterized by deep breathing to increase blood oxygen levels) should not be confused with hyperventilation, which is characterized by shallow breathing caused by anxiety and which then perpetuates itself to increase the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.
Step 6. Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant found in coffee, tea leaves, sodas, chocolate, energy drinks, some prescription medications, and over-the-counter weight loss products. Caffeine increases brain activity (which disrupts sleep), can trigger anxiety, and also negatively affects breathing. In addition, it has been associated with hyperventilation and sleep apnea (interruption of breathing during sleep). Therefore, reduce or avoid caffeine consumption if you commonly experience bouts of hyperventilation.
- To reduce the risk or degree of sleep disturbance, avoid all caffeine-containing products after lunch. Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety, which can trigger hyperventilation. Some people metabolize caffeine slowly and others do it quickly. The former may not be able to take it at all and the latter may be able to do so near bedtime.
- Chronic and daily consumption of caffeinated beverages does not appear to have as much impact on respiration (due to the body's ability to adapt) compared to occasional or excessive consumption.
- Freshly brewed coffee tends to be the most concentrated source of caffeine. It is also found in colas, energy drinks, teas, and chocolate.
Part 2 of 2: Seeking Treatment for Hyperventilation
Step 1. See a doctor
Although stress and anxiety are believed to be the main underlying causes of hyperventilation, some medical conditions are also causal. Therefore, visit your GP and ask for a checkup and physical examination to rule out more serious causes of hyperventilation such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, lung infection, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer. lung disease, chronic pain syndrome and over-medication.
- Diagnostic tests that the doctor may perform include taking a blood sample (to check oxygen and carbon dioxide levels), ventilation and perfusion scan of the lungs, chest x-ray, chest CT scan, electrocardiogram (to check the functioning of the heart).
- Prescription medications that are strongly associated with hyperventilation include isoproterenol (a heart medication), Seroquel (an antipsychotic), and some anxiolytics, such as alprazolam and lorazepam.
- Women are much more likely to experience hyperventilation than men (they have a risk of up to seven times higher).
Step 2. Find a mental health professional
If your doctor rules out a serious illness as the cause of hyperventilation and suspects anxiety or panic attacks, ask for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist to treat the problem. Counseling or psychological therapy (which includes various types of methods and techniques) can be effective in helping you deal with stress, anxiety, phobias, depression, and even chronic pain. For example, supportive psychotherapy can be a way to ensure that you get enough oxygen during an attack. It can also help eliminate an irrational phobia (fear) that triggers a panic attack.
- Ask your psychologist about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This can help you control or eliminate negative thoughts, worries, and any false beliefs that stress you out or keep you from sleeping.
- About 50% of people with panic disorder have symptoms of hyperventilation, while about 25% of those with hyperventilation syndrome have panic disorder.
Step 3. Talk to your doctor about medications
If an underlying psychological disorder cannot be appropriately treated with non-drug therapy or counseling and hyperventilation attacks lead to increasingly noticeable physical or social problems, then taking medication should be the last resort. Anxiolytics, sedatives, beta-blockers, and tricyclic antidepressants may be helpful and helpful for some people, but they should be taken with caution (usually briefly) and with awareness of the various side effects they can cause (particularly behavioral psychotic).
- Brief use of medications that affect thoughts, emotions, and behaviors should generally have a time frame of a few weeks to less than six months.
- Most people can be taught to manage hyperventilation syndrome without medication (especially with the help of a psychotherapist), while others benefit from brief use of psychotropic medications. However, some people with chemical imbalances in the brain may need long-term pharmaceutical care (for many years).
- Symptoms of hyperventilation generally last 20-30 minutes per episode.
- Traveling to places that are higher than 1800 meters (6000 feet) can cause hyperventilation.
- Hyperventilation can also occur after a serious head injury.
- Most people with hyperventilation syndrome are between the ages of 15 and 55.