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Hyperventilation: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Hyperventilation is breathing that is deeper and faster than normal. It causes the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood to drop. This may make you feel light-headed. You may also have a fast heartbeat and feel short of breath. It also can lead to numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, anxiety, fainting, and sore chest muscles.

Some causes of sudden hyperventilation include anxiety, asthma, emphysema, a head injury, fever, and some medicines.

Hyperventilation also may be caused by a pattern of incorrect breathing. It most often happens when a physical or emotional event makes this breathing pattern worse. Hyperventilation may happen during pregnancy. But it usually goes away on its own after delivery.

In many cases, hyperventilation can be controlled by learning proper breathing techniques.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Breathing methods

  • Breathe through pursed lips, as if you are whistling. Or pinch one nostril and breathe through your nose. It is harder to hyperventilate through your nose or through pursed lips because you can't move as much air.
  • Slow your breathing to 1 breath every 5 seconds, or slow enough that symptoms gradually go away.
  • Try belly-breathing. This fills your lungs fully, slows your breathing rate, and helps you relax.
    • Place one hand on your belly just below the ribs. Place the other hand on your chest. You can do this while standing, but it may be more comfortable while you lie on the floor with your knees bent.
    • Take a deep breath through your nose. As you breathe in, let your belly push your hand out. Keep your chest still.
    • As you breathe out through pursed lips, feel your hand go down. Use the hand on your belly to help you push all the air out. Take your time breathing out.
    • Repeat these steps 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.

Always try to control your breathing or to 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.

Using a paper bag

  • Take 6 to 12 easy, natural breaths, with a small paper bag held over your mouth and nose. Then remove the bag from your nose and mouth, and take easy, natural breaths.
  • Next, try belly-breathing.
  • Switch between these techniques until your hyperventilation stops.

Do not try this method if:

  • You have any heart or lung problems.
  • Rapid breathing happens at a high altitude. Breathing faster than normal is a natural response to high altitude.

Follow these safety measures when using this method:

  • Do not use a plastic bag.
  • Do not breathe continuously into a paper bag. Take 6 to 12 natural breaths with a paper bag held over your mouth and nose. Then remove the bag from your nose and mouth.
  • Do not hold the bag for a person who is hyperventilating. Let the person hold the bag over his or her own mouth and nose.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You hyperventilate for longer than 30 minutes.
  • You hyperventilate often.
  • Your symptoms do not improve with home treatment.
  • Your symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.