Hyperventilation or over breathing is the state of breathing faster or deeper than normal. This causes excessive explosion of carbon dioxide, leaving low levels in the blood, and can be associated with a psychological state such as a panic attack or a physiological state such as metabolic acidosis (a condition whereby the body is producing too much acid or the kidneys are not getting rid of enough perhaps due to renal failure).


Excessive or fast breathing is commonly described as (Hyperventilation). It is usually the result of acute anxiety and can lead to the patient having a panic attack.


Hyperventilation can easily be mistaken for Asthma but this can be identified because a patient having an asthma attack generates a wheeze in their breathing pattern, whereas in the Hyperventilating patient breathing can be heard entering and exiting the lungs normally.


Signs & Symptoms:

  • Patient will look anxious and be struggling to breath.
  • Speech will be difficult.
  • Dizziness or faintness.
  • Palpitations.
  • Feeling of choking or suffocation.
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling or marked tingling/pins and needles in the hands.
  • Cramps in the hands and feet.
  • Patient fearful of dying during an attack.



HYPERVENTILATION IS NOT A RESPIRATORY DISEASE BUT AN EMOTIONAL CONDITION. Therefore staying calm is the most important method to help control the symptoms. The aims of the treatment are to increase CO2 (Carbon dioxide) levels in the lungs and increase O2 (oxygen) levels to vital organs.



  • Be firm but reassuring.
  • Lead the patient to a quiet place.
  • Explain to the patient what is happening.
  • Ask patient to hold their breath, this will reduce the respiratory rate.
  • Encourage slow deep breathing.
  • Breathing through their nose will help reduce the loss of carbon dioxide.
  • The patient could take sips of water to help reduce the numbers of breaths taken.



  • Care must be taken not to mistake Asthma with Hyperventilation.



We hope you find this article useful. This is one in an alphabetical series of articles addressing various symptoms and their first aid treatments. If you would like more information on related resuscitation and first aid training, please get in touch.


You might also be interested in our blog. This particular post talks about recognising the symptoms of a stroke, and advice on what to do next.


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