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Hyperventilation – Paper or Plastic?

Hyperventilation may have several names such as, rapid deep breathing, over-breathing, excessive breathing or fast deep breathing, but in the end it simply means to breath more than necessary.   When you breathe you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  Excessive breathing may lead to lower levels of carbon dioxide in your blood.  This imbalance in the blood can cause hyperventilation syndrome.  Though in most cases it is not life threatening, it can be very scary which leads to increased anxiety, which makes the situation worse.

Some common causes of hyperventilation:

  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Stress
  • Panic attack
  • Dramatic illness
  • Stimulant use
  • Lung disease such as asthma, COPD or pulmonary embolism
  • Infections such as pneumonia or sepsis
  • Cardiac disease
  • Severe pain
  • Bleeding
  • Drugs

Our priority is to raise the carbon dioxide levels of the blood.  In the past, we accomplished this by having the victim breath into a paper bag, but as explained above sometimes the cause may be a condition in which lowering the oxygen content in the blood may be harmful (i.e., cardiac arrest, lung disease).

It is now suggested to first calm the victim by using soothing words or phrases like “remain calm,” you are doing fine,” “try to breath slowly” or “you are not going to die.”
Put the victim in a sitting position or a position of comfort.  And to increase the carbon dioxide levels more naturally, have the victim breath through pursed lips (as though you are blowing out a candle) or cover the mouth and one nostril and ask the victim to breathe through the one nostril slowly.

If the victim does not show marked improvement within the next 5 minutes or complains of chest pains, immediately call 911.  In most cases hyperventilation syndrome is not a respiratory disease, it is an emotional condition, but be aware that it may be from an
underlying condition to a more serious illness.

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1 comment

    • Raphael Alvino on June 16, 2013 at 1:12 am
    • Reply

    Chest pain may be a symptom of a number of serious conditions and is generally considered a medical emergency. Even though it may be determined that the pain is non-cardiac in origin, this is often a diagnosis of exclusion made after ruling out more serious causes of the pain.-,”*

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