Hyperventilation: What is it? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

It is a condition where the person begins to breathe very fast.

Healthy breathing occurs with a healthy balance between breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. You upset this balance when you hyperventilate by exhaling more than you inhale. This causes a rapid reduction of carbon dioxide in the body.

Low carbon dioxide levels lead to a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. This reduced blood supply to the brain leads to symptoms such as dizziness and tingling in the fingers.

Severe hyperventilation can lead to loss of consciousness.

For some people, hyperventilation is rare. It only occurs as an occasional panic response to fear, stress, or phobia.

For others, this condition is a response to emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, or anger. When hyperventilation is common, it is known as hyperventilation syndrome.

Hyperventilation is also known as:


  • Deep (or rapid) breathing.
  • About breathing.
  • Rapid and deep breathing (or breathing) rate.

What Causes Hyperventilation?

Common causes of hyperventilation

Many factors can lead to hyperventilation.

This condition is usually due to:

  • The anxiety.
  • Panic.
  • Nervousness
  • Stress.

It often takes the form of a panic attack.

Other causes include:

  • Bleeding
  • Use of stimulants.
  • Drug overdose (aspirin overdose, for example).
  • Severe pain
  • The pregnancy.
  • Lung infection.
  • Lung diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma.
  • Heart conditions, such as a heart attack.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (a complication of high blood sugar in people with type 1 diabetes).
  • Head injuries.
  • Travel at elevations over 6,000 feet.
  • Hyperventilation syndrome.


Hyperventilation can be a severe problem. Symptoms can last 20 to 30 minutes. You should seek treatment for hyperventilation when the following symptoms occur:

  • Fast, deep breathing for the first time.
  • Hyperventilation gets worse, even after trying home care options.
  • Pain.
  • Fever.
  • Hemorrhage.
  • If you feel anxious, nervous, or tense.
  • Frequent sighing or yawning.
  • Pounding and racing heartbeat
  • Problems with balance, dizziness, or vertigo.
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or around the mouth.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Feeling of fullness
  • Tenderness or pain

Other symptoms occur less frequently, and it may not be evident that they are related to hyperventilation. Some of these symptoms are:

  • Headache.
  • Gas, bloating, or belching.
  • Spasms
  • Perspiration.
  • Vision changes, such as blurred vision.
  • Problems with concentration or memory.
  • Loss of consciousness (fainting).

Be sure to tell your doctor if you have recurring symptoms. You may have a condition called hyperventilation syndrome.

This syndrome is not well understood and has symptoms similar to panic disorder. It is often misdiagnosed as asthma.

Treatment of hyperventilation

It is essential to try to stay calm in acute cases of hyperventilation.

It can be helpful to have someone with you to guide you through the episode. The goal of treatment during an episode is to increase the levels of carbon dioxide in your body and to work to decrease your breathing rate.

Home care

You can try some immediate techniques to help treat acute hyperventilation:

  • Breathe through pursed lips.
  • Breathe slowly into a paper bag or with your hands cupped.
  • Try to breathe into your belly (diaphragm) instead of your chest.
  • Hold your breath for 10 to 15 seconds at a time.

Alternate nose breathing

This involves covering your mouth and alternating breathing through each nostril. For example, close your right nostril and breathe through the left with your mouth covered.

Then alternate closing the left nostril and breathing through the right. Repeat this pattern until your breathing has returned to normal.

Some people may find vigorous exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging while breathing in and out of the nose, helps with hyperventilation.

Stress reduction

If you have hyperventilation syndrome, you will want to find out what is causing it. If you suffer from anxiety or stress, you may want to see a psychologist help you understand and treat your condition.

Learning stress reduction and breathing techniques will help control your condition.


Acupuncture can also be an effective treatment for hyperventilation syndrome. Acupuncture is an alternative treatment based on ancient Chinese medicine.

It involves placing fine needles in areas of the body to promote healing. A preliminary study found that acupuncture helped reduce anxiety and the severity of hyperventilation.


Depending on the severity, your doctor may also prescribe medications.

Examples of medications for hyperventilation include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Doxepin (Silenor).
  • Paroxetine (Paxil).

Prevention of hyperventilation

You can learn breathing and relaxation techniques to help prevent hyperventilation.

These include:

  • Meditation.
  • Alternate nose breathing, deep belly breathing, and whole-body breathing.
  • Exercises for the mind and body include tai chi, yoga, or qigong.
  • Exercising regularly (walking, running, biking, etc.) can also help prevent hyperventilation.

Remember to stay calm if you experience any of the symptoms of hyperventilation. Try home care breathing methods to get your breathing back on track, and be sure to see your doctor.

Hyperventilation is treatable, but you can have underlying problems. Your doctor can help you get to the root of the problem and find an appropriate treatment.