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Hyperventilation occurs when the rate and quantity of ventilations of Carbon dioxide exceed the body's production of it. Hyperventilation can be voluntary or involuntary. When breathing is excessive, more Carbon dioxide will be removed from the blood stream than the body can produce. This causes a concentration of Carbon dioxide in the blood stream to fall and produces a state known as hypercapnia. The body normally attempts to compensate this metabolically. If excess ventilation cannot be compensated metabolically, it will lead to a rise in blood pH. The rise in blood pH is known as respiratory alkalosis. When hyperventilation leads to respiratory alkalosis, it may cause a number of physical symptoms including dizziness, tingling in the lips, agitation, confusion, feeling of not being able to breathe, headaches, weakness, fainting and seizures.

In extreme cases, it can cause spasms, flapping, and contraction of the hands and feet, sometimes referred to as claw hands. Free divers sometimes voluntarily hyperventilate in a hope of extending dive time or extending the length of time they can swim under water without rising to take a breath. This does, however, put them at risk of shallow water blackout as they rise to the surface.

Anaesthetists sometimes recommend that their patients hyperventilate prior to putting them under general anesthesia. Certain kinds of yoga also employ voluntary hyperventilation. Involuntary hyperventilation can occur as a response to both physical and emotional stimuli. These include reduced air pressure at high altitude, raised progesterone levels in pregnancy, head injury, stroke, respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia. Some cardiovascular problems such as pulmonary embolisms can cause hyperventilation. The final group of conditions that cause hyperventilating are anaemia, adverse reaction to certain drugs, physical or emotional stress, fear, pain, and anxiety. Hyperventilation can also be mechanically produced in people on respirators. Stress or anxiety are common causes of hyperventilation.

This is known as hyperventilation syndrome. Hyperventilation can also be brought on voluntarily by taking too many deep breaths in rapid succession. Hyperventilation can also occur as a consequence of various lung diseases, head injury, or stroke. The first step that should be taken is to treat the underlying cause. Anxiety can cause hyperventilation producing symptoms that are interpreted as indicating serious physical illness.

This causes more hyperventilation and worse symptoms, it is a vicious circle. Re-breathing into a paper bag has been used in the past as the initial treatment, as it can be used to help build up the Carbon dioxide levels, but this should only be done where advised by a medical professional and the diagnosis is certain as it may be dangerous if there is a physical disease. Relaxation techniques and breathing exercises may be helpful for people who hyperventilate often. And if you are dealing with a patient, try to get them to control their breathing and focus on you to help reset their breathing patterns. In most cases, you do not have to call the EMS, but it would be worth referring them to a doctor to treat the underlying cause.