Hyperventilation and how to correct it

What is Hyperventilation?

The purpose of breathing is to maintain a constant pressure of both oxygen (that is obtained from the air) and carbon dioxide (that is produced by the body). Because different levels of activity or metabolism require different amounts of oxygen and produce different volumes of carbon dioxide, breathing automatically increases and decreases to keep the pressures of these gases constant.

Hyperventilation simply means breathing more air per minute than you need to do so for the amount of work your body is doing.

When resting, hyperventilation is usually caused by a combination of mouth-breathing, using the upper chest muscles, rapid breathing, or frequent yawning or sighing. The breathing does not need to be noisy or rapid in order to be excessive.
A healthy adult breathes around 12 times a minute, inhaling 4 - 6 litres of air by doing so. Breathing 20 times a minute, would cause 8—10 litres of air to be breathed. When done over a week 40,000 litres of extra air will have been inhaled, enough to fill a small swimming pool. No one notices if they breathe every 3 seconds instead of every 5, but the body suffers because carbon dioxide in the lungs and bloodstream is lowered, and many more irritants, germs and cold air are inhaled.

Common symptoms of hyperventilation include:

Respiratory system: Erratic, noisy or forceful breathing, breathing with the mouth and upper chest, shortness of breath, chest tightness, over-sensitivity of airways, coughing, excessive sneezing or mucus production, long-term blocked or running sinus, excessive yawning or sighing.
Nervous system: Light-headed, dizzy, unsteady, poor concentration, numbness, tingling and coldness (especially in the hands, feet and face). In severe cases, loss of memory or loss of consciousness.
Heart: Racing, pounding or skipped heart beats.
Psychological: Degrees of anxiety, depression, tension, apprehension or feeling 'spaced out'.
General: Dry mouth, abdominal bloating, belching, flatulence, poor sleep patterns, vivid dreams, snoring, excessive sweating (especially underarms, palms or feet), repeated throat clearing, itchy skin, chest pain (not heart-related), headache, frequent urination, general weakness and chronic exhaustion, cold hands and feet.

If you experience these kinds of symptoms, you may not link them to your breathing at first, because many of them seem to have nothing at all to do with your lungs. But breathing affects your entire body and so it is easy for symptoms to be wide-spread.

Start correcting your breathing

Try changing your breathing while you do something relaxing – like watching television or reading a book. First of all, breathe in and out of your nose all of the time. See if you can catch yourself breathing through your mouth. If you do, close your mouth and start breathing through your nose again.

When breathing in and out of your nose is easy to do, see which parts of your body are moving when you breathe. Try to get your diaphragm to do the breathing for you instead of your upper chest muscles.

Once you have mastered the breathing muscles, see if you can put the tiniest gap in your breathing after each exhalation. It needs to be tiny – maybe only a second or less, but when you are resting there is generally no need to breathe in again immediately after each breath out.

Just doing these three small things will make a huge difference to your breathing and put you on the path towards having a healthy breathing pattern.