How to Prevent Hyperventilation

Two Parts:Preventing Hyperventilation at HomeSeeking Treatment for Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is a medical term for unusually rapid breathing that's often triggered by stress, anxiety or outright panic attacks.[1] Excessively rapid breathing creates low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which can lead to dizziness, fainting, weakness, confusion, agitation, panic and/or chest pain. If you frequently experience hyperventilation — not to be confused with an increased breathing rate from exercise — then you may have hyperventilation syndrome. Hyperventilation syndrome can often be overcome at home with the following helpful strategies, although sometimes medical intervention is needed.

Part 1
Preventing Hyperventilation at Home

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    Breathe through your nose. Breathing through your nose is an effective technique to combat hyperventilation because you simply can't move as much air through your nose compared to your mouth.[2] As such, nose breathing reduces your respiratory rate. It may take some getting used to and you may need to cleanse your nasal passages first, but breathing through your nose is more efficient and better filters dust and other particulate material from air compared to mouth breathing.
    • Breathing through your nose will also help eliminate some common abdominal symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome, such as bloating, burping and passing gas.
    • Nose breathing will also help combat dry mouth and bad breath, which are also associated with mouth breathing and chronic hyperventilation.
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    Take deeper "belly breaths." People who chronically hyperventilate usually take shallow breaths from their mouths and only fill up their upper chest (upper lung fields) when they inhale. This is inefficient and doesn't get enough oxygen into the blood, which increases respiratory rates. Persistent shallow breathing also causes too much carbon dioxide to be exhaled, which creates a negative feedback loop and further triggers hyperventilation. Instead, inhale through your nose and practice involving your diaphragm more, which will act to suck more air into your lower lung fields and supply your blood with more oxygen.[3] This technique is often called "belly breathing" (or diaphragmatic breathing) because your lower abdomen will protrude outwards when you force your diaphragm muscle down.
    • Practice taking deep breaths in through your nose and watch your belly push out before your chest expands. You'll notice a relaxing sensation and reduced respiratory rate after a few minutes.
    • Try holding your breath in your lungs a little longer also — aim for about three seconds or so to start with.
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    Loosen your clothing. On the practical side of things, it's difficult to take deep breaths if your clothing is too tight, so loosen your belt and make sure your pants fit comfortably — particularly to make belly breathing easier.[4] Furthermore, keep clothing loose around your chest and neck, including shirts and bras. If you have a history of hyperventilation, then avoid neck ties, scarves and turtlenecks, as they may make you feel constrained and trigger an attack.
    • Tight clothes may contribute to the feeling of suffocation in sensitive (or phobic) individuals, so wearing loose clothing is an important strategy for some.
    • Clothing made of soft fibers (cotton, silk) may also be helpful, as rougher fabrics such as wool can cause skin irritation, discomfort, overheating and agitation in some people.
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    Try relaxation techniques. Since stress and anxiety seem to be the major underlying causes of chronic hyperventilation syndrome, and are well documented to trigger acute episodes, a sensible strategy is to better manage how you react to stress. Stress-relieving practices like meditation, tai chi and yoga are all helpful for promoting relaxation and better emotional health.[5] Yoga, in particular, is not just about putting your body into various poses, but it also incorporates breathing exercises, which is particularly important for combating hyperventilation. In addition, try to deal with the stress in your life by making positive changes and/or train yourself to control anxious thoughts about work, finances, or relationships.
    • Excessive stress/anxiety cause the release of hormones that prepare your body for "fight or flight", which includes altered breathing and heart rates.
    • Getting enough quality sleep is also important for better dealing with stress. A chronic lack of sleep hampers the immune system and often leads to anxiety and depressed feelings.[6]
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    Get some aerobic exercise. Regular (daily) aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is another method to help you stop hyperventilating because it forces you to take deeper breaths and it can improve breathing efficiency.[7] Regular aerobic exercise also promotes weight loss, improves cardiovascular health, increases fitness and tends to reduce anxiety that contributes to hyperventilation. Aerobic exercise is any sustained movement that increases your heart and breathing rates to the point that carrying on a normal conversation becomes difficult.
    • Other healthy examples of aerobic exercise include swimming, cycling, and jogging.
    • An increased breathing rate from aerobic exercise (characterized by deep breathing to increase blood oxygen levels) should not be confused with hyperventilation, which is characterized by shallow breathing triggered by anxiety and then perpetuated to increase blood carbon dioxide levels.
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    Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant found in coffee, tea leaves, soda pop, chocolate, energy drinks, some prescription drugs and over-the-counter weight loss products. Caffeine increases brain activity (which disrupts sleep), can trigger anxiety, and also negatively impacts breathing — it's been linked to hyperventilation and sleep apnea (breathing disruption during sleep)[8][9][10] As such, cut down or eliminate your caffeine consumption if you commonly experience bouts of hyperventilation.
    • To reduce the risk or degree of sleep disruption, avoid all products with caffeine after lunchtime. Sleep deprivation leads to anxiety, which can trigger hyperventilation. Some people are slow metabolizers of caffeine, and some are fast metabolizers. Slow metabolizers may not be able to drink it at all, and fast metabolizers might be able to drink it within hours of bedtime
    • Chronic, daily consumption of caffeinated beverages doesn't seem to have as much impact on breathing (because the body adapts to it) compared to occasional use or binge drinking.
    • Fresh brewed coffee tends to be the most concentrated source of caffeine. It can also be found in colas, energy drinks, teas, and chocolate.

Part 2
Seeking Treatment for Hyperventilation

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    Consult with your doctor. Although stress and anxiety are thought to be the main underlying causes of hyperventilation, some medical conditions are also causative. As such, see your family physician and get a checkup and physical examination to rule out more serious causes of hyperventilation such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, lung infection, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, chronic pain syndrome and overmedication.[11]
    • Diagnostic tests that your doctor may perform include: taking a blood sample (checking for oxygen and carbon dioxide levels), ventilation / perfusion scan of your lungs, chest x-ray, CT chest scan, ECG / EKG (to check heart function).
    • Prescription drugs that are strongly linked to hyperventilation include isoproterenol (heart medication), seroquel (an antipsychotic), and some anti-anxiety medications, such as alprazolam and lorazepam.
    • Women are much more likely to experience hyperventilation than men — they have up to a seven times greater risk.[12]
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    See a mental health professional. If your doctor rules out serious disease as the cause of hyperventilation and anxiety or panic attacks are suspected, get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist to help treat your problem.[13] Psychological counseling / therapy (which includes many different approaches and techniques) can be effective at helping you deal with stress, anxiety, phobias, depression, and even chronic pain. For example, supportive psychotherapy can reassure you that you're getting enough oxygen during an attack. It can also help dissolve an irrational phobia (fear) that triggers a panic attack.
    • Ask your therapist about cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — it helps you control or eliminate negative thoughts, worries and any false beliefs that are stressing you out and disrupting sleep.[14][15]
    • About 50% of people with a panic disorder have hyperventilation symptoms, whereas about 25% of people with hyperventilation syndrome have a panic disorder.[16]
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    Talk to your doctor about medication. If an underlying psychological disorder can't be properly treated with drugless therapy / counseling and the bouts of hyperventilation are creating increasingly noticeable physical and/or social problems, then medication should be considered as a last resort. Anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, beta-blockers and tricyclic antidepressants can be useful and helpful for some individuals, but they should be taken cautiously — usually just short term — and with the understanding of the numerous side effects that are possible (particularly psychotic behavior).[17]
    • Short-term use of medications that impact thoughts, emotions and behaviors usually fall within the time frame of a few weeks to less than six months.
    • Most people can be taught to manage hyperventilation syndrome without medication (especially with help of a psychotherapist), while others benefit from short-term use of psychotropic drugs. However, some with chemical imbalances in their brains may need pharmaceutical care long-term (for many years).


  • Hyperventilation also can occur after a serious head injury.
  • Symptoms of hyperventilation usually last 20-30 minutes per episode.
  • Hyperventilation can be triggered by traveling to elevations over 6,000 feet.
  • Most people who suffer from hyperventilation syndrome are between the ages of 15-55 years.[18]


  • Although breathing into a paper bag increases blood carbon dioxide levels and can help break the feedback loop of hyperventilation, it is no longer recommended for people with lung or heart disease.[19]

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Categories: Breathing and Meditation | Respiratory Health