We often feel that deep breathing brings more oxygen to our body. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. In fact, breathing deeper than needed can reduce the oxygen reaching our cells. This is called hyperventilation. We can easily hyperventilate specially in particular situations. Here are the situations that trigger hyperventilation and what to do about them.
Here are the Top 12 situations/substances which can cause us to breathe more air than we need:
TRIGGERS OF HYPERVENTILATION
It’s a common site in the Emergency Room: Someone thinks he is having an asthma attack. He puffs his favorite anti-asthma inhaler. Minutes later, he is rushed to the hospital with chest pain, numbness in the arms, and dizziness. Hyperventilation makes your airways smaller, causing constriction. This mimics asthma. Anti-asthma medications removes this constriction to relieve the difficulty in breathing. By removing the constriction however, it can also allows you to hyperventilate even more. Medicines most notorious to do this include anti-asthma drugs such as Salbutamol and Formeterol.
Other medications that have been documented to trigger hyperventilation include anesthesia, antibiotics, and pain relievers.
SYMPTOMS: Numbness and stiffness of arms, cold hands, dizziness, difficulty of breathing, panic.
Have you ever had that feeling of dizziness or difficulty of breathing during or right after exercise? Well, exercise makes people breathe heavier than at rest. This supposedly improves oxygen flow and removes excess carbon dioxide. However, the ratio between the amount of air needed and amount of air one breathes may not always be correct. Our breathing can exceed our needs. This may occur while exercising or right after exercise. This is theorized to be one of possible culprits in exercise-induced asthma.
SYMPTOMS: Gets tired easily, dizziness during or right after exercise, chest pain and/or palpitations, cramps. Vomiting after exercise may also occur. In the worst cases, difficulty of breathing.
10. PLEASANT ODORS
Do you get colds when you smell perfume? The tendency for us to sniff pleasant odor is natural. It can be conscious or unconscious. Our body is given the false pretense that it feels better as it takes in something pleasant. However, with every sniff comes exhalation which can mess up the oxygen-carbon dioxide blend of the body. I used to work for a shampoo factory where workers constantly got colds. So beware of those fragrant perfumes, soaps, and fabric conditioners. Some people attribute this to an “allergy” to perfume.
SYMPTOMS: Itchy eyes, runny nose and “allergies”. They can sometimes sense faint scents when others are not able to detect them yet. May also have dizziness and cough.
Ironically, the opposite of pleasant odors also causes one to hyperventilate. As we try to reject the unpleasant odors, we tend to exhale faster. Sometimes, we may even cover our nose with a piece of cloth or filter.
Face masks do not help and may even worsen it. Fighting the smell with air fresheners can hide the odor but can also trigger hyperventilation with the freshener’s own scent.
SYMPTOMS: Dizziness, “Becoming paler in color”, cough
8. AIR PARTICLES
Air particles like pollen and smoke, create a mix of both pleasant and unpleasant odors. They can also irritate the airways. This causes us to exhale faster in the hope that the particles will go away. This can cause us to cough, or sneeze. Again, this triggers a rapid escape of air from the body, triggering hyperventilation.
SYMPTOMS: Coughing, sneezing, allergies
7. COLD AND HOT ENVIRONMENT
Dogs tend to pant heavily in hot environments. People do the same too with slightly although less noticeable. This gives us the illusion that the body is becoming cooler.
Similarly, there is a tendency to breathe heavier in cold environments. Sometimes accompanied by shivering. This can make one feel warmer.
In both precesses, hyperventilation is triggered. Ironically, hyperventilation can contribute to the poor hot/cold tolerance. So it might make one feel better initially, but it really makes things worse overall.
SYMPTOMS: Colds during cold and hot weather, cold hands and feet, may have poor tolerance to these temperatures
6. ANGER, HEATED DISCUSSIONS
People raise their voice, breath heavier when they are angry. The heavy breathing makes them look scarier and more serious. Blood pressure can really rise with their temper. During such encounters, The best thing to do is to calm down. If anger is a recurrent problem, some counselling with a family physician or counselor can be very helpful.
SYMPTOMS: difficulty of breathing, chest pain, dizziness
5. FEAR, ANXIETY, STRESS
Movie directors emphasize fear by putting scenes of heavy breathing. This happens too in real life. People who hyperventilate often suffer from anxiety. I often get patients who are rushed to the hospital after receiving bad news. They are filled with anxiety and panic. This reaction can also come as a sign of the person calling out for help and/or attention.
We know today that both hyperventilation and anxiety often come together. However, it is hard to determine which one came first. It’s a very good idea to incorporate breathing retraining with counselling for anxiety disorders.
SYMPTOMS: Sudden feeling of panic, difficulty of breathing, chest pain, sometimes loss of consciousness
4. WIND ON THE FACE
We often meet people who get dizzy after being in front of an electric fan or air-conditioner. I have seen people who feel sick when they stay next to an open window of a moving car or bus.
Even babies can be trained to change their breathing habits by blowing directly into their faces. If someone’s difficulty of breathing is due to hyperventilation, give them space to breathe. Putting them directly in front of a fan is a lousy idea.
SYMPTOMS: Dizziness for adults and children.
WARNING: For babies, they can actually stop breathing and their faces can turn blue – can be dangerous!
3. LAUGHTER AND OVER EXCITEMENT
Laughter has been documented to trigger asthma attacks. Similarly it entails a rapid exit of air from the body preceded and followed by fast inhalation. This action describes hyperventilation. So, it isn’t just a plethora of negative emotions that can trigger hyperventilation, but positive ones too.
SYMPTOMS: Coughing, difficulty of breathing, chest pain
Do you wake up in the middle of the night having difficulty of breathing? Or do you experience numbness in an arm or leg? Medical science determined that our bodies tend to breathe heavier in sleep. The cause is unknown. Hyperventilation during sleep may cause poor sleep quality. I personally think that this is related to sleep paralysis. This is because my patients with chronic hyperventilation often have symptoms of sleep paralysis too. Also, their sleep paralysis symptoms respond very well with breathing retraining.
SYMPTOMS: Wakes up with numbness or cramps of an arm or leg. May snore and have sleep apnea. Upon waking up they may have back pain, dry mouth, acidic stomach, itchy eyes, and clogged nose. Sometimes, this may cause them to wake up in the middle of the night with chest pain and difficulty of breathing. Poor sleep may results in chronic fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
SYMPTOMS: Numbess and stiffness in the arms, dizziness, palpitations, chest pain
Do you feel easily tired when stressed? Do you feel your body presents with different types of pains or unexplained symptoms because of stress? Hyperventilation is the part of stress which causes the most symptoms. Stress is still the number 1 cause of hyperventilation.
Many of us would resort to techniques such as deep breathing exercises,exercise, and sleep to combat stress. However, these “stress-busting” activities may tend to cause even more hyperventilation. Many of these symptoms remain for a long time. Hyperventilation due to stress, and hyperventilation due to “stress-busting” attempts produce a viscous cycle which many people have a hard time to get away from.
SYMPTOMS: Chronic Fatigue, Mood swings, anxiety at work, poor sleep, various body pain, unable to think clearly, colds, cough.
People who have an occupation necessitating frequent shouting, talking, or singing may suffer from hyperventilation due to their occupation. These include teachers, call-center agents, and choir singers.
Certain types of foods and drinks such as alcohol and highly processed foods are suspected to trigger hyperventilation as well. Food which are highly allergenic may also pose a threat.
SIMILARITY TO ASTHMA TRIGGERS: THIS MAY ACCOMPANY ASTHMA
Practically all of the mentioned hyperventilation triggers (except for anti-asthma medicines) are also known “non-specific triggers of asthma.” In fact, a good number of asthmatics suffer from hyperventilation too. Hyperventilation on its own can be mistaken for asthma. This is one reason why breathing retraining helps asthmatics.
HYPERVENTILATION CAN EXIST EVEN WITHOUT ASTHMA
Hyperventilation can accompany a wide variety of problems including hypertension, obesity, diabetes, allergic rhinitis, sleep apnea, and even certain types of cancers. It can easily be missed on diagnosis because it mimics a variety of other disorders. On its own, hyperventilation can be very irritating and oftentimes be a recurring problem. People who hyperventilate frequently may suffer from chronic hyperventilation syndrome.
RELAX, DON’T PANIC
Panic during hyperventilation worsens the condition. Breathing will be uncontrolled, and may further worsen. When dealing wth hyperventilation, DO NOT PANIC. Instead, relax and try to calm your mind.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
The good news is that we now have specialists who can treat it. The British Thoracic Society (BTS) has recommended the use of breathing retraining in chronic hyperventilation syndrome. Breathing retraining using the Buteyko Method combines easy to follow breathing exercises designed to enhance relaxation and optimize one’s breathing with practical advice on food and sleeping habits. Breathing retraining can be administered by certified Buteyko Practitioners worldwide.
What do you guys think? Please comment and share your experiences.
The BTS guidelines on chronic hyperventilation syndrome/dysfunctional breathing can be found here: https://www.brit-thoracic.org.uk/portals/0/guidelines/physiotherapy/physiotherapyguideline/physiofullguideline.pdf
Breathing Expert blog: http://www.breathingexpert.com/blog
Breathing Expert website: http:www.breathingexpert.com
This article was written by Charles Florendo
is a certified family physician with training in interventional wellness. He is probably the first hyperventilation and dysfunctional breathing specialist in Southeast Asia. He has taught breathing retraining to patients and healthcare workers in Africa, United States, and the Philippines. He holds an advanced certificate in Buteyko from the Buteyko Breathing Association (UK). He is presently the medical adviser of the Buteyko Clinic International and a consultant at Mary Chiles General Hospital (Philippines) and the Clinica Salutare (Philippines). He lives in Manila, Philippines
Disclaimer: This article is based on the personal opinion of the author and does not constitute medical advice. Trademarks and copyright of names and logos of organizations, corporations, or products belong to their respective owners. The mention of any particular product or service does not constitute their endorsement by any particular entity. The author is not affiliated with the Global Initiative for Asthma,nor the British Thoracic Society.
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