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How to Treat Hyperventilation

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I saw a child today who had been injured in a soccer match when he was accidentally kicked in the chest. He had shortness of breath and then became uncomfortable and started to breath rapidly and get upset about “feeling light headed” and anxious. Because he had a history of asthma his Mom brought him straight to the office for fear that he was having an asthma attack.

But he was not having any real respiratory distress and his oxygen levels were normal and his lungs were clear. The problem was that he was hyperventilating. It is not uncommon for someone to hyperventilate when they are in pain. When you hyperventilate and disturb your CO2 and O2 levels, you will have a feeling of lightheadedness, and often tingling in your arms and hands. That seems even scarier, so you then breathe faster and faster and the cycle continues.

The best thing to do if you think someone is hyper-ventilating, have them re- breathe into a paper bag. By re-breathing your CO2 it will slow down your breathing and within several minutes they will be feeling much better, less anxious and light headed. If you don’t happen to have a paper bag, have them follow your lead as you slow their breathing down and reassure them that their symptoms are going to improve as they take slow deep breathes.

A bit of TLC for the little guy today, slow breathing exercises, a Sprite and a note for school sent him on his way!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again soon!

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