How COPD Patients Can Avoid Hyperventilating

Some people with COPD are prone to hyperventilating, or rapid, deep breathing. When a person hyperventilates, it causes a decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas in the blood. This can lead to disturbing symptoms.

Symptoms of Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation can cause, or be accompanied by, the following symptoms, which may last up to 30 minutes:[1]

  • Feeling anxious, nervous, or tense
  • Frequent sighing or yawning
  • Air hunger (feeling like you can’t get enough air)
  • Feeling like you need to sit up to breathe
  • A pounding, racing heart beat
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or unable to keep your balance
  • Numbness and tingling in your hands, feet, or mouth area
  • A feeling of tightness, fullness, pain, pressure, or tenderness in the chest

Additional symptoms that may occur less frequently include headache, gas, bloating or burping, twitching, sweating, blurred vision or tunnel vision, and fainting. If symptoms of hyperventilation occur frequently, you may be diagnosed with a condition called hyperventilation syndrome.1

Home Treatment for Hyperventilation

pursed-lip, breathing, breathing techniques, hyperventilation, home treatment
To help control your breathing and stop hyperventilation, try the following home remedies:

Pursed-lip breathing – improves ventilation, decreases the work of breathing, improves breathing patterns, promotes relaxation, and relieves shortness of breath. To perform pursed-lip breathing, follow the steps below:[2]

  1. Sit in a comfortable position and relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
  2. With your mouth closed, slowly inhale through your nose while counting to two. Breathe normally avoiding a full, deep breath. If it helps, count to yourself: inhale, one, two.
  3. Before you exhale, purse your lips as if you were getting ready to whistle or gently blow out the flame of a candle.
  4. Exhale slowly out of pursed lips while counting to four. If it helps, count to yourself: exhale, one, two, three, four.
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 until hyperventilation is under control.

Practice pursed-lip breathing 3 to 4 times daily when you’re not experiencing breathing difficulties so you can call upon it automatically when hyperventilation occurs.

Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing – helps slow your rate of breathing and helps you relax.1 To perform diaphragmatic breathing, take the following steps:2

  1. Lie down with your knees bent. Place a pillow underneath your legs to support your back. You can also do this exercise while sitting or standing upright once you’re comfortable performing it lying down.
  2. Place one hand on your abdomen, just below your waist and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while gently pushing out your abdomen. You should be able to feel the hand on your abdomen moving outward. Remember to allow your diaphragm do the work while your neck, shoulder, chest and rib muscles remain still.
  4. Exhale slowly through pursed lips while gently pushing inward and upward on your abdomen to help empty your lungs completely.
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 for 5 to 10 minutes.

Practice the above steps 5 to 10 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times daily so you can master the technique and use it when you begin to hyperventilate.

Note: The home remedy of breathing into a paper bag when you’re hyperventilating is not recommended for people with COPD and other heart or lung problems, or a history of deep vein thrombosis, stroke, or pulmonary embolism.1

Prevention

You may be able to prevent hyperventilating by implementing the following:1

  • Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. It’s more difficult to hyperventilate when your mouth is closed.
  • Loosen tight clothing which restricts breathing and causes shallow breathing in the upper chest.
  • Try a variety of relaxation techniques and practice the one that works best for you on a regular basis.
  • Share your feelings with friends and family or seek professional help from a counselor to help reduce anxiety and manage stress. Keep a journal to find workable solutions to your problems.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Drink fewer caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and soda and try to curb your craving for chocolate.
  • Exercise regularly to reduce anxiety that contributes to hyperventilation.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Being well-rested helps reduce daytime anxiety that may lead to hyperventilation.
  • Replace negative thought patterns with positive affirmations.

If hyperventilating persists longer than 30 minutes, contact your primary care provider immediately.

[1] WebMD. Hyperventilation: Topic Overview. Accessed 3/29/2017.

[2] Cleveland Clinic. “Pursed Lip Breathing”. Last reviewed May 21, 2014.

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