Hyperventilation and its symptoms

Why is hyperventilation so difficult to detect?

Because breathing is taken care of by the brain, it is not something that is given a lot of thought unless you have trouble with it, and breathing is seldom checked by a doctor unless you are very unwell. Yet for most of us, most of the time, we are feeling quite well and so our breathing is hardly ever checked by anyone – medical or otherwise. For instance it would be rare for anyone to check their breathing when they are using a computer.

Hyperventilation is also not necessarily done consistently. Once the respiratory centre has adapted to a lower than normal level of carbon dioxide, which drives the breathing, it is only necessary to take a deep breath every few minutes to keep the carbon dioxide pressure low.

A typical person with hyperventilation symptoms is likely to

  • Use the upper chest muscles to breathe with must of the time
  • The diaphragm is not used as much as it normally would
  • Breathe more than sixteen times a minute when resting and through their mouth for quite a lot of this time
  • Sigh, yawn or other deep breath taken frequently
  • Gasp or take a deep breath before starting to speak

What does breathing too much do to me?

A habit of over-breathing can cause or worsen the symptoms of health problems. It can also cause symptoms that become labelled as illnesses or conditions. This can lead to both over-diagnosis and treatment for a condition that you do not have, or is not as severe as it seems.

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.

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