Hyperventilating, also called overbreathing, can occur during panic attacks can be frightening. This can cause your panic attack to escalate.
When someone hyperventilates, they may feel lightheaded or dizzy. They may have additional symptoms of excess gas, belching, bloating or dry mouth. They may feel weak, have problems sleeping or feel numbness or tingling in your arms. They may experience muscle spasms, chest pains or heart palpitations.
Hyperventilating is a symptom of anxiety and panic attacks, but can also signal other, serious health conditions. If you begin hyperventilating, and have not seen a doctor for this symptom, it is important to seek medical attention to determine if there is a medical condition that should be treated immediately. Some of the physical reasons for hyperventilating can include:
- Lung disease
- Pneumonia or other lung infections
- Heart attack, congestive heart failure or heart disease
- Internal bleeding
- Side effect of certain medications
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
A physician should rule out all physical illnesses for hyperventilation before you attempt self-care.
If your doctor determines the hyperventilation has been caused by panic attacks, anxiety or emotional stress, there are some steps you can take to help alleviate the symptoms.
- Try to stay calm. Although this can be difficult, you may tell people with you what to do in case of hyperventilation. Let them know they can talk calmly to you, repeating, “You will be fine” or some other similar statement to help you remember you are not in danger and the panic attack will pass. Staying calm will help to raise carbon dioxide levels in your blood (which drop significantly when you hyperventilate.)
- Purse your lips as if you are blowing out a candle and breath this way rather than keeping your mouth open. This will reduce the amount of oxygen you take in.
- Cover your mouth and one nostril, breathing only through one nostril to reduce the oxygen you take in, thereby increasing your carbon dioxide levels.
- Learn deep breathing techniques to help keep you calm during a panic attack. Breathing from your diaphragm and abdomen rather than through your chest.
- Learn relaxation techniques to help cope with an anxiety or panic attack.
- Add exercise to your daily routine. This has been found to decrease the number and intensity of panic and anxiety attacks.
Hyperventilating, especially for the first time, can be scary and make you feel as if you are having a heart attack. Seeking treatment for anxiety, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or medication, can help you better cope with anxiety.
Hyperventilation, MedlinePlus, A service of the U.S. Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.