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Hyperventilation Attack

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Hyperventilation attack is also called panic attack which is characterized by the recurrent bouts of intense fear. The exact cause of panic attacks is still not known.

Important: This blog post is for information purposes only. Learn how to manage and recognize breathing emergencies such as hyperventilation by enrolling in St Mark James first aid classes.

Signs and symptoms of hyperventilation attacks

The most common signs and symptoms of hyperventilation attacks include:hyperventalation

  • Sudden, severe anxiety due to fear of dying or any other fear-striking situation
  • An abrupt fear of losing control

A person having a hyperventilation or panic attack may also experience the following symptoms along with sudden fear:

  • Chest pain
  • Hot flashes
  • Depression/distress
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Flushing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Heartburn
  • Hiccups
  • Cramping pain in the hand – cramping pain in the fingers
  • Insomnia and other sleep related problems
  • Cramping pain in the foot – cramping pain of the toes
  • Cramps in one leg or cramps in both legs
  • Bilateral numbness of the face such as the numbness of the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Tingling sensation
  • Bilateral tingling of the arms
  • Bilateral tingling of the hands
  • Bilateral tingling of the face
  • Numbness in both arms and/or both legs
  • Numbness in the finger(s)
  • Bilateral numbness of the hand
  • Numbness of the feet
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Profuse sweating
  • Difficulty in swallowing

When to seek medical attention

See your doctor as soon as possible if any of the problems occur along with the hyperventilation or panic attack:

  • Depression, distress, severe anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Chest pain
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fainting
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • The condition is not allowing you to perform daily activities
  • The condition is causing behavioral changes such as loss of appetite, mood changes etc.
  • You are having thoughts of inflicting pain or hurting yourself
  • You are having thoughts of hurting others
  • Your panic attacks are recurrent, persistent and worsening
  • You are exhibiting violent behaviour

Your doctor will focus on reducing your stress, suggest mental health and support groups and provide biofeedback. Your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. Additional treatment may involve teaching you how to ventilate or breathe into a paper bag to control panic attacks.

Treatment

Call 911 immediate if you see a person hyperventilating and having breathing difficulty and/or having chest pain. Chest pain will feel as if a crushing or squeezing pain on the chest.

Follow these treatment steps if you see a person having a panic attack:

1. Reassure the casualty

  • Try to calm the casualty down in order to reduce distress

2. Allow the casualty to relax and make him feel comfortable

  • Ask the casualty to purse his lips and breathe as if trying to blow out a candle
  • Now, cover one nostril and the mouth and ask the casualty to breathe through the open nostril
  • Ask the casualty to breath slowly and calmly. He should take 1 breath for every 5 seconds
  • Ask the casualty to take slow and deep breaths from his abdomen. This is called belly breathing

3. Go to the hospital if any of the problems occur:

  • The treatment is ineffective and the casualty does not feel better after a long time
  • Symptoms become worse
  • The casualty is in pain

 Prevention

The following preventative measure will reduce the chances of having further episodes of hyperventilation attacks:

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Avoid taking decongestant medication
  • Quit smoking and avoid passive smoking. If a person in your family smokes, ask him/her to smoke outside and away from the family
  • Avoid stimulants
  • Try to restrict sugar from your diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice stress management and relaxation techniques

Learn More

Learn more about breathing emergencies and hyperventilation by taking St Mark James first aid courses (enrol here) with quality providers.

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