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What Is Overbreathing?

Abdominal discomfort may be the result of overbreathing.
Breathing into a bag during hyperventilation may help return carbon dioxide levels to normal.
Article Details
  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Overbreathing, also called hyperventilation, is a condition in which a person is taking in more air than his body needs. When a person breathes too rapidly or too deeply, the excess air he takes into his body can cause unpleasant symptoms. For example, it may cause a person to feel weak or lightheaded. A person who is overbreathing may also note problems with his balance or have muscle spasms that affect his extremities. A person may even become short of breath as a direct result of overbreathing.

There are many things that may cause overbreathing. Some people, for example, do it in response to anxiety or when they are having panic attacks. In other cases, it may be caused by the use of stimulants. Sometimes people may even experience it because they’ve used aspirin excessively.

In addition to such symptoms as dizziness and muscle spasms, some people may also notice numbness or tingling around their lips that is caused by overbreathing. In severe cases, a person may even start to hallucinate. Some people may also experience abdominal discomfort, bloating, and gas as a result of taking in too much air.

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In some cases, a person may have trouble with overbreathing because of a medical condition that affects his lungs. For example, a person may hyperventilate because of asthma or other lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If a person has a blocked lung artery or a lung infection, he may hyperventilate as well. Hyperventilation may develop when a person has a blood infection, heart problem, or uncontrolled diabetes; it may even occur during a heart attack. Some people also hyperventilate in response to severe pain.

In many cases, taking steps to relax and doing breathing exercises may help a person return to a more normal breathing pattern. An individual may do well to see a doctor to ensure there is no uncontrolled, underlying health condition causing the excess intake of air. If an underlying medical condition is discovered, treating that may help prevent further hyperventilation episodes. If a person has seen a doctor for overbreathing in the past, however, relaxation and breathing exercises may be enough.

In the past, people were often advised to breathe into a paper bag as a home treatment for overbreathing. Most doctors recommend against this now. Doing so can cause the person to take in too much carbon dioxide, which may prove harmful.

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