Introduction To Hyperventilation Syndrome
DO NOT USE ANY BAG FOR RE-BREATHING
Hyperventilation is the term used to describe the symptoms resulting from over-breathing that increases oxygen and decreases the carbon dioxide exchange.
In this condition, the rate and depth of breathing exceed that required to maintain normal levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the bloodstream. Consequently, the carbon dioxide level in the arterial blood falls, resulting in a range of symptoms and signs as listed below.
Anxiety is usually present in people suffering from hyperventilation syndrome. However, not every person who is breathing deeply or rapidly has hyperventilation syndrome. More serious conditions that may lead to hyperventilation include:
- Asthma attack
- Heart failure
- Pulmonary embolus
- Heart attack
- Spontaneous pneumothorax
- Some poisoning incidents
- Panic attack
- Uncontrolled diabetes.
If any of the above conditions are suspected, call for an ambulance immediately by calling Triple Zero – 000.
Recognition Of Hyperventilation
Symptoms of hyperventilation may include:
· Shortness of breath
· Being unable to get enough breath in
· Chest discomfort
· A feeling of panic and impending death
· Blurred vision
· Tingling of fingers, toes, and lips
· A feeling of detachment and not being in full control of the body (depersonalisation).
Signs of hyperventilation may include:
· Rapid breathing
· Occasional deep, sighing breaths
· Rapid pulse
· Altered level of consciousness as in fainting
· Hand and finger spasm (carpo-pedal spasm) may be present in advanced attacks. The fingers and wrists become claw-like with the thumb held stiffly across the palm.
Management Of Hyperventilation
· Reassure the victim and encourage the person to slow down their breathing.
· Follow the ARC Basic Life Support Flow Chart Guideline 8.
· If the symptoms of hyperventilation are unresolved, call for an ambulance (Dial Triple Zero – 000).
Treatment Of Hyperventilation Syndrome
Most patients require treatment for underlying anxiety disorders. Treatments might include:
- Cognitive therapy
- Stress reduction techniques
- Drugs like anxiolytics, antidepressants and lithium
- A combination of these techniques
Hyperventilation is not a respiratory disease but an emotional condition.
At its most extreme a person could force themselves to hyperventilate until they briefly pass out. At the point they pass out, the body will immediately return to normal breathing and self-correct the imbalance.
Keeping the person calm and slowing their breathing back to a controlled rate is the most important method to providing First Aid. The aim of the treatment is to restore balance by increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the lungs and decreasing the oversupply of oxygen to vital organs until normal breathing and exchange rates have returned.
The use of a paper bag is no longer advocated as it can cause dangerously low o2 levels and increased carbon dioxide levels creating another situation.
· Be calm, firm, and reassuring.
· Ideally find the patient a quiet place to regain composure.
· Explain to the patient what is happening.
· Ask the person to hold their breath, this will reduce the respiratory rate and curtail the ability to over breath.
· Encourage slow deep breathing.
· Breathing in through their nose and out through pursed lips will help reduce the loss of carbon dioxide until balance is restored naturally.
CAUTION: Care must be taken not to mistake an asthma attack with hyperventilation.
First Aid Course Experts
FACE is a registered and nationally accredited RTO and we provide First Aid courses that comply with ANZCOR guidelines.
Book a group workplace First Aid course and qualify all of your staff in one convenient place and time. We come to you, and we can tailor a bespoke workplace and industry course delivered onsite by one of our expert instructors.
Visit our FACE Blog page for more information on a wide range of topics to motivate and educate you on all things First Aid related.