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First Aid: Hyperventilation

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Regina Victoria Boyles · Updated Nov 20, 2022

First Aid: Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is a condition where someone suffers rapid and deep breathing. Frequent over-breathing, or hyperventilation, is one of the common symptoms of hyperventilation syndrome. If you feel that you are hyperventilating, immediately apply hyperventilation first aid.


The symptoms of hyperventilation are straightforward since it is characterized by unnaturally fast or deep breathing. This brings about a high pulse rate and a feeling of faintness or dizziness, which could be coupled by tingling or cramping in your hands and feet.

Causes of Hyperventilation

Medical Causes

Medical causes include:

  • Bleeding
  • Pregnancy
  • Severe pain
  • Heart problems such as heart attacks, heart failure, and dysrhythmias
  • Lung diseases, like asthma, COPD, and pulmonary embolism
  • Overdosing on drugs like aspirin

The body uses hyperventilation as a way to cope with certain sensations.

Emotional Factors

Some common emotional causes of hyperventilation include:

When the body enters a state of panic, uncontrolled quick breathing is a common occurrence.

hyperventilation treatment first aid

Blood Constriction and Hyperventilation

While some people may think that hyperventilation is caused by a shortage of air, science disagrees. Hyperventilation, physiology states, is actually less of an air problem and more of a blood or circulation problem.

What happens on the internal level is vasoconstriction, which is caused by the reduction of carbon dioxide in the arteries connected to the heart. Because there is a shortage of carbon dioxide retained in the bloodstream, the partial pressure of it decreases and sends your body into respiratory alkalosis. This means that the pH levels of blood change through an increase of alkalinity or a decrease of acidity.

This change causes the constriction of small blood vessels, known as vasoconstriction. This is especially alarming when it affects the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. And it is for this reason why hyperventilation symptoms also include lightheadedness and tingling fingertips. In severe cases, the patient could pass out because of hyperventilation and restricted blood flow to the brain.

Hyperventilation First Aid

Since hyperventilation is something that is triggered and needs immediate care, the essentials are obvious for hyperventilation first aid.

Emotional First Aid

The main focus of dealing with hyperventilation is getting air intake at a controlled pace. However, if the causes are emotional, emotional first aid like reassurance and calming techniques are more appropriate.

Emotional responses to another known condition are quite similar to that of hyperventilation: anxiety.

Physical First Aid

For physical recovery, there are several techniques to raise the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood:

1. Pursed-Lip Breathing

Here’s how to do it:

  • As the name suggests, the patient must purse their lips, as if they are whistling, and breathe at a pace as controlled as possible.
  • Pinching one nostril and breathing through the nose also work the same way if the air intake through the mouth is limited.
  • If possible, controlling or slowing down breathing to one breath every five seconds works. A common technique of doing this is belly breathing.

2. Belly Breathing

Belly breathing can be done standing up, but it is better to do it lying down with your knees bent. When belly breathing:

  • Place one hand right below your ribs and another on your chest.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose and fill your lungs fully. Pay attention to your belly pushing your hand forward, but try and keep your chest level.
  • Exhale through pursed lips and use your hand to gently push all the air out as you breathe out slowly.
  • Repeat this 3 to 10 times or as many times as needed to slow down breathing.

3. Paper Bag Technique

There’s one classic and timeless solution to hyperventilation: paper bags. It’s important to take caution with this method as it can also cause oxygen levels in the body to go down.

  • Take 6 to 12 breaths at an easy, natural pace.
  • Hold a small paper bag over your mouth and nose as you breathe in and out of the bag.
  • This is also effective when done before belly breathing or alternating between the two until the rate of breathing is sufficiently slowed.

Keep in mind that this method must not be used if you have heart or lung problems. Using this in high altitudes could make the air volume lower than expected, so that should not be done either. Plastic bags are not suitable substitutes to paper bags since they restrict air exchange. If necessary, make sure to remove the paper bag from your mouth and nose in between breaths.

When Should I Go to the Doctor?

If it is your first time experiencing hyperventilation or rapid breathing and you are not diagnosed with anything yet that may cause it, this is considered a medical emergency. You must head to hospital or seek medical attention as soon as possible. The same goes for when you are experiencing pain, suffering from a fever, or are profusely bleeding.

If home remedies like belly breathing make the hyperventilation worse instead of better, it is also necessary that you go to the hospital. In general, unrelated symptoms or unknown causes need medical attention.

Key Takeaways

Hyperventilation is caused by panic but this does not mean that when the situation calls for it, we also respond with panic. This is why learning hyperventilation first aid is beneficial. As long as we know what to do and how to do it, we can help ourselves and the people around us to recover quickly.

Learn more about Healthy Habits here


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Regina Victoria Boyles · Updated Nov 20, 2022

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