Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms
Hyperventilation is breathing that is deeper and more rapid than normal. It causes a decrease in the amount of a gas in the blood. (This gas is called carbon dioxide, or CO2.) The decrease may make you feel light-headed. You may have a rapid heartbeat and be short of breath. It also can lead to numbness or tingling in your hands or feet, anxiety, fainting, and sore chest muscles.
Some causes of sudden hyperventilation include anxiety, fever, some medicines, intense exercise, and emotional stress. It also can occur because of problems caused by asthma or emphysema or after a head injury. But it occurs most often in people who are nervous or tense, breathe shallowly, and have other medical problems, such as lung diseases or panic disorder. It occurs more often in women than men. Most people who have it are 15 to 55 years old. It may occur when people travel to elevations over 2000 m (6500 ft). Symptoms can be like ones from another more serious medical problem, such as a lung problem.
Acute (sudden) hyperventilation is usually triggered by acute stress, anxiety, or emotional upset. Chronic (recurring) hyperventilation may be a lasting problem for people with other diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, or lung cancer.
Many women have problems with hyperventilation when they are pregnant. But it usually goes away on its own after the baby is born.
In many cases, hyperventilation can be controlled by learning proper breathing techniques.
Symptoms usually last 20 to 30 minutes. They may include:
Other symptoms may occur less often. You may not realize that they are directly related to hyperventilation. These symptoms can include:
Hyperventilation isn't a disease. But you may need to be checked by your doctor if you keep having symptoms. If you have recurring symptoms, you might be diagnosed with a condition called hyperventilation syndrome (HVS).
Treatment for hyperventilation depends on the cause. Home treatment is usually all that's needed for mild symptoms. Medical treatment may be needed for hyperventilation symptoms that are moderate to severe, that last for a long time, that come back, or that interfere with your daily activities. Treatment usually includes reassurance, stress reduction measures, breathing lessons, or medicine.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
Severe trouble breathing means:
Moderate trouble breathing means:
Mild trouble breathing means:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms like shortness of breath, tiredness, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Home treatment may help you control your breathing and stop hyperventilation.
Always try steps to control your breathing or belly-breathe first. If these techniques don't work and you don't have other health problems, you might try breathing in and out of a paper bag that covers your nose and mouth.
First, sit down and concentrate on your breathing.
Breathe through pursed lips, as if you're whistling.
Or pinch one nostril, and breathe through your nose. It's harder to hyperventilate when you breathe through your nose or pursed lips, because you can't move as much air.
Or breathe slowly enough that symptoms gradually go away.
But don't use a paper bag if:
If you use the bag method, follow these precautions.
If you have episodes of hyperventilation that last a long time or occur often, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.