Hyperventilation: Too Much of a Good (Oxygen) Thing

Hyperventilation is a situation where a person is breathing too fast and too deeply, in a situation where their body is not using up the extra air they are inhaling. This causes an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and can lead to unconsciousness and death.

Causes of Hyperventilation

Someone may hyperventilate on purpose, or because of anxiety/emotional stress.

Signs and Symptoms of Hyperventilation

  • Shallow, rapid breathing.
  • Complaints from casualty that he or she can't get enough air or is suffocating.
  • A feeling of fear, apprehension, or confusion.
  • Dizziness and numbness or tingling of fingers and toes.

First Aid for Hyperventilation

If a person's breathing is rapid and there are signs and symptoms of an injury or and underlying illness or condition, call EMS personnel immediately. If the person's breathing is rapid and you are certain that it is caused by emotion, such as excitement, give the following first aid:

  • Remove them from the cause (e.g. away from an accident scene).
  • Tell the person to relax and breathe slowly. Reassurance is often enough to correct hyperventilation.
  • If their condition continues, or becomes worse, call 9-1-1.
  • Do NOT have them breathe into a paper bag, this can worsen the condition.
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