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Health > First Aid > Over Breathing


Over breathing is generally caused by stress and it can produce some very worrying symptoms

Because breathing is something that happens automatically in the body, we all take it for granted. But as soon as we become aware of air passing into and out of our lungs, we can then choose to breathe more frequently and more deeply if we wish. If this overbreathing is done for a few minutes or more, we will experience peculiar feelings. This condition is also known as hyperventilation.

Overbreathing often occurs in stressful situations. Patients might go to their doctors with a variety of symptoms, and it can prove very difficult for the doctor to diagnose overbreathing as the cause. It is a rare condition in the very young and elderly, and is most commonly seen in people between 15 and 30 years.


An adult normally breathes in and out about 15-20 times a minute when he or she is resting - this rate will increase naturally under stressful conditions and with some lung disorders. However, some people hyperventilate with stress and experience strange symptoms which can be very worrying.

Over dosage with aspirin also causes hyperventilation because of the direct action of the drug on the centre in the brain which controls breathing rates.


The symptoms caused by hyperventilation are the result of breathing out too much carbon dioxide gas. Increased breathing reduces the carbon dioxide in the tissues, causing narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain and reducing the blood flow.

Faintness, visual disturbances, nausea, cramps, unsteadiness, headache, shortness of breath, palpitations, hot flushes, cold sweats and tingling sensations are the symptom experienced.


The quickest way to cure over breathing is to breathe in and out of a paper bag, taking in the air and carbon dioxide that has just been breathed out. This increase the carbon dioxide level in the blood and the symptoms disappear. Mild tranquillizers may also help to control anxiety.


Many people ‘grow out’ of these attacks, but for a few, long-term psychiatric treatment is necessary. Avoiding stressful situations does help. Tranquillizers may be prescribed if the condition is severe but taking them for a long time should be avoided.

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