A stressful situation, big rush or excitement, and it can happen: A person panics, suddenly has the feeling that he can not breathe, that he can not breathe, as if the chest was suddenly too tight. And to help himself, he begins to breathe deeper and faster, jerky and abnormal, for several minutes until his fingers and hands cramp and in the worst case until he loses consciousness and faints.
Causes and Statistics
Hyperventilation syndrome is called that, about 5-10% of all adults are affected by this psychogenic disorder. Preference is given to young adults in the second or third decade of life, but in older age this disorder rarely occurs for the first time.
It is usually assumed that young women are affected more frequently than men, but various studies have shown that the syndrome is approximately equally common in both sexes. Anxiety, panic or acute stress situations are common causes of hyperventilation syndrome.
Symptoms of hyperventilation
Hyperventilation means excessive breathing, breathing that goes beyond what the body needs. This results in various disorders in the body that manifest as symptoms. Due to the faster and deeper breathing more carbon dioxide is exhaled, and this leads to an increase in the pH in the blood.
As a result, the blood circulation deteriorates, for example, on the hands and feet, but also in the brain. Therefore, headaches, nervousness and dizziness or cold, wet skin are symptoms of hyperventilation. And it comes to various metabolic reactions, including a shift in the electrolytes in the blood.
This also affects the calcium, and this leads to an over-excitability of the muscles to muscle cramps, for example, the so-called paw position of the hands. All these are symptoms of hyperventilation. In addition, there are symptoms such as tingling, ants running or trembling. When breathing returns to normal, all changes and disturbances decline.
Exclusion of other causes
Hyperventilation syndrome can be acute or chronic. In contrast to an acute syndrome, which the doctor can usually detect by a detailed survey, the symptoms and symptoms of chronic hyperventilation are diffuse and mild, as the body has usually become accustomed to the changed conditions. The changes are then detectable via a blood gas analysis.
However, before one can assume that it is a hyperventilation syndrome with a psychogenic cause, physical illnesses that result in a need-based and meaningful increase in respiration must be excluded. This form of meaningful hyperventilation can be found, for example, in asthma, heart failure or electrolyte disorders.
How can you help in the attack
The most important thing is to calm a person who is hyperventilating, and calm himself. One should try to explain to the person concerned that the symptoms such as tingling or ants running on the skin are completely harmless and go away when breathing normally again.
It is very helpful if you get eye contact with the affected person, then you should try to focus calmly and definitely on breathing, and give instructions in a clear voice such as exhale, inhale. Care should be taken to extend the expiratory time, for example: inhale through the open mouth, but exhale with the mouth closed and through the nose. If this does not help, it is sometimes advisable to breathe hyperventilating into a paper bag or a plastic bag that is held lightly in front of the nose and mouth.
If there is no bag, you can try it with the arched, held-up hand. This absorbs too much exhaled carbon dioxide and can be absorbed by the body. This leads to a balance of the acid-base balance and the condition of the affected person returns to normal. But be careful, because someone who has the feeling of being short of air, a bag in front of his mouth and nose, can again cause anxiety and panic. Therefore, this should only happen if the person concerned is approachable and participates himself.
Does not help anything, a doctor must be called, if necessary, gives a sedative. Attention! If the hyperventilation is based on a serious physical condition, do not breathe in a bag, as this could result in a life-threatening oxygen deficiency.
Help by breathing technique and behavior change
Of great importance in the therapy comes to the breathing training, in which the affected should learn to control their breathing even in the attack. Relaxation exercises such as yoga or autogenic training are also helpful in the treatment. However, if hyperventilation occurs again and again in certain situations or if the hyperventilation syndrome is chronic, psychotherapeutic or psychosomatic treatment should be sought in order to identify the cause and to change the way of reacting with therapy.