Hyperventilation in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Hyperventilation is breathing that is deeper and faster than normal. It can make your child feel light-headed, with a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath. Your child may also have numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, anxiety, fainting, and sore chest muscles.

Your child may hyperventilate when under physical or emotional stress. Some causes of sudden hyperventilation include anxiety, asthma, a head injury, fever, and some medicines. You can help by teaching your child a different way to breathe.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Breathing methods to teach your child

Teach your child to always try to control his or her breathing or to belly-breathe first. If these techniques do not work and your child does not have other health problems, you might have your child try breathing in and out of a paper bag. Teach yourself first and then teach your child.

  • 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 cannot move as much air.
  • Slow your breathing to 1 breath every 5 seconds, or slow enough that symptoms gradually go away.
  • Try belly-breathing, which 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 are lying 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.

Using a paper bag

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

Do not try this method with your child if:

  • Your child has any heart of 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 have your child breathe continuously into a paper bag. Have him or her take 6 to 12 natural breaths with a paper bag held over the mouth and nose, and then remove the bag from the nose and mouth.
  • Do not hold the bag for your child if your child is able to hold the bag over his or her own mouth and nose.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

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

  • Your child hyperventilates for longer than 30 minutes.
  • Your child hyperventilates often.
  • Your child's symptoms do not improve with home treatment.
  • Your child's symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if your child has any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: May 27, 2016