What is Hyperventilation?
The signs of hyperventilation occur when someone breathes too quickly and deeply, exhaling far too much carbon dioxide for the body to replenish. When this happens, it leads to lower than normal carbon dioxide levels in the body, and more specifically the blood. The proper name for this is hypocapnia if you want to sound smart.
Carbon dioxide is vital for regulating our respiration and blood pH levels, so when the amount of carbon dioxide in the body gets too low from overbreathing, the blood begins too alkaline.
Highly alkaline blood can cause the blood vessels to tighten, restricting blood flow to the organs in the body, including to the brain, this is what causes the signs of hyperventilation to start to show.
What Causes Hyperventilation?
Some people may go their whole lives without experiencing signs of hyperventilation, whereas others will be more prone to having them due to a wide range of physical and mental health conditions, which we’ll get into.
People who suffer from the signs of hyperventilation on a frequent basis might have a condition known as hyperventilation syndrome, which is usually diagnosed by their GP.
Most of the time, hyperventilation is brought on by intense emotional states, this can be through mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, as well as extreme stress from work or in their private lives. The condition can be brought on by experiencing phobias, fears or from experiencing frightening events.
Signs of hyperventilation can happen due to other lesser-known reasons. Some of the causes include:
- Being pregnant
- An overdose of legal or illegal drugs
- Heart attack
- Too many stimulants
The list goes on, and sometimes you might experience hyperventilation but have no idea what the root cause of it might be. You should consult a medical professional if you experience the condition, so they can help understand what might have caused it.
Is a Panic Attack the Same as Hyperventilation?
Often misconstrued for one another, the signs of hyperventilation are often mistaken for a panic attack, though many of their symptoms overlap.
Hyperventilation is the medical term given for the loss of carbon dioxide in the blood, whereas a panic attack is the process of experiencing intense fright, this can be from being jump scared in a movie, woken up in the night by a loud bang, or recalling a traumatic event from childhood.
Panic attacks can cause you to hyperventilate, and vice versa, but they are not the exact same condition.
The Signs of Hyperventilation
So, let’s start getting into the signs of hyperventilation, which is probably the reason you clicked on this article in the first place. The signs can vary from person to person, but generally, they tend to be the same, or at least very similar for everyone who hyperventilates.
Spotting the signs of hyperventilation early gives you the chance to get into a safe space and get the help you may need while you are experiencing the condition.
During hyperventilation, the reduced carbon dioxide in the blood causes the blood vessels to constrict, which puts greater strain on the blood flow to the heart. This forces the heart to pump harder and faster to try to force the blood through the narrow blood vessels.
Your heart rate starts to increase to try to compensate for the decreased blood flow to the brain and other organs. The side effects of a high or increased heart rate are dizziness, light headiness or shortness of breath.
2. Dizziness, Light-headedness or Headaches
Possibly one of the more common signs of hyperventilation is dizziness, light-headedness or acute headache. It will usually be the first thing that people notice, as their sense of perception will slightly shift, this is usually when they become overwhelmed through anxiety or stress. The lack of circulation in the body will often cause headaches, so it’s not surprising that hyperventilation can cause your head to be one of the first places you notice changes or pain.
Shortness of breath or being unable to get a full deep breath can indicate someone may be experiencing hyperventilation. Rapid, deep breathing during hyperventilation actually expels too much carbon dioxide from the body.
This leads to constricted airways and oxygen deprivation that creates a sensation of breathlessness, which for many can be frightening.
The frequent and ineffective breaths that follow as a result often make the situation much worse.
4. Muscle Spasms
Overbreathing during hyperventilation can cause calcium levels in your blood to drop drastically, resulting in muscle spasms throughout your body, but most commonly in the hands or feet. This is one of the signs of hyperventilation that can be the scariest, but it is quite normal to experience, so try not to get too overwhelmed as it should pass, and being afraid will only make the symptoms worse.
5. Chest Pain
During hyperventilation, chest pain can occur due to the stress that overbreathing causing your chest muscles and the rib cage to become tired. Chest pain will usually occur after the intense breathing that come during hyperventilation, so you might not notice it straight away.
There are other factors that could play a part in you experiencing chest pain, this could be related to the heart and the stress its under when there is a lack of carbon dioxide in the blood.
6. Numbness or Tingling Sensation Around the Mouth
Not many people know this, but people who hyperventilate can experience a tingling sensation around the mouth, lips, tongue or even feet, as well as the feeling of numbness. It’s believed that these areas of the body are responding to the lack of blood flow to them because of the lack of carbon dioxide in the blood, preventing it from reaching these areas.
If you experience these signs of hyperventilation, it’s important you stay vigilant and inform someone close by that you might be having an attack.
How to Manage the Signs of Hyperventilation
Being prepared is the first step towards prioritising your health, so by learning the various methods and techniques to manage the signs of hyperventilation can stop you being overwhelmed when or if it happens to you next.
We’ve compiled a list of the best ways to manage your symptoms, so you’re in the best position to combat the signs of hyperventilation like a pro.
Use Breathing Control Techniques
Breathing can be the key to many of our health conditions, as it’s the route in which oxygen enters the body. Nasal breathing has many health benefits that can enable us to control our emotions, manage stress and help us to relax.
Knowing how to breathe properly is something most of us never needed lessons in, as breathing was the first thing we did when entering this world. But different methods and specific exercises can drastically change us physically and mentally.
Reduce Caffeine Intake
Consuming too many stimulants can sometimes be the culprit to panic attacks and hyperventilation. People drink coffee and energy drinks almost every day, which is not managed correctly, can affect our health more than most can comprehend.
If you have an overreliance on caffeine, it can be changed by making healthier swaps, or by having periods of abstaining from consuming stimulants, though we know it can be difficult.
Use Relaxation Techniques
Learning how to relax can be a fantastic way of reducing stress, anxiety and depression, which all helps reduce the signs of hyperventilation. Relaxation techniques can involve breathing exercises, but we’ve already covered that.
Practices like meditation and mindfulness can improve mental and emotional wellbeing, so they’re great practices to do generally, even if you have never experienced a panic attack or hyperventilation.
These methods can be used to avoid hyperventilation, as well as when you notice the signs of hyperventilation coming on.
Treat Underlying Health Conditions
Tackling the root of hyperventilation is one of the best ways at preventing it happening again altogether. Seeking professional help for mental health disorders puts you in the driver’s seat for changing the direction of travel for your life.
Conditions like anxiety, situational anxiety and depression can be treated by changing your lifestyle, making changes in your life and by receiving the right therapy or counselling.
If the cause is physical, then this would need to be assessed by a medical professional in order to distinguish what the cause is.
Seeing a Doctor & Getting Medication
If you have tried all the other recommendations for managing the signs of hyperventilation, then you should seek professional advice from your GP or pharmacist. They can prescribe you medication specific to your condition, to help treat the root cause of you hyperventilation signs.
Seeing a professional might just be the best way to overcome your condition or at least treat it so that you no longer have to suffer to the extreme like you might currently be doing.
e-Surgery offers a free to use ‘Ask a Pharmacist’ service which allows you to speak directly with one of our pharmacists to help you with any smaller medical needs that you don’t feel is worth the hassle of getting a GP appointment for.
Our friendly team are here to give you piece of mind by identifying what your symptoms could be, or the signs of hyperventilation and offering the best prescription medication to help you resolve the condition if needed.
All you have to do is complete a short consultation online then you’ll be put through to one of our medical professionals in a matter of minutes. It’s really that easy!