You must have seen in movies or may be in real life, a person hyperventilating immediately pulls out a paper bag (a brown one in most cases!). Then, the person starts breathing in and out of the paper bag and after sometime, becomes normal. A paper bag has become synonymous to hyperventilating. Just like a pump is synonymous to asthma. This makes us wonder what is this hyperventilating syndrome and can mere breathing into a paper bag help treat it? Hyperventilation is a breathing disorder with psychological roots. Many people are seen using paper bag to control hyperventilation.
What is Hyperventilation Syndrome?
Hyperventilating syndrome is a psychological condition or an emotional condition, that causes a person to breathe in too deeply. The victim may feel chest pain, tingling in fingertips, paresthesia around the mouth and an onset of a panic attack. The victims start to feel that they are not getting enough air to breathe. They start gasping for air and breathing in more oxygen. However, in reality their blood oxygen levels are normal and it is the level of carbon dioxide that decreases. Even though carbon dioxide is a metabolic waste product, it is still needed in small amounts to maintain the pH balance in the body. As the level of CO2 decreases, body tissues begin to suffer from a short-circuit. This causes the numbness around the mouth and lips, tingling in fingers and cramps in feet. The causes of hyperventilation syndrome are mostly emotional or psychological. They may even include blood loss, heart attack, infection, etc. Sometimes, chemical imbalances or decrease in blood flow to the cerebral brain may trigger hyperventilation.
How is Hyperventilation Syndrome Treated?
Hyperventilation syndrome treatment involves breathing into a paper bag or trying the '7-11 breathing technique'. The '7-11 breathing technique' requires one to inhale and exhale by deliberately slowing down the breathing rate. This can be done by counting and looking at the seconds hand on the watch. When one inhales, it is found to take about 7 seconds and exhalation should take about 11 seconds. Other traditional method is using a paper bag to control hyperventilation. A victim is supposed to breathe in and out of the paper bag. This helps him get back to normalcy soon.
How Does Breathing into a Paper Bag Help Hyperventilation?
It is important to understand the actual idea behind the traditional treatment of using a paper bag. Well, breathing into a paper bag allows the victim to re-breath the same air again. This air contains CO2 and thus, helps in getting more CO2 into the blood. Hyperventilation is actually caused by lack of CO2 in blood. The paper bag idea helps get more CO2 in the body. So, basically it's not just the paper bag, but anything similar used instead of the bag will help get results.
Is Use of Paper Bag Dangerous?
Use of paper bag for hyperventilation is not dangerous. However, it can turn dangerous if a person uses the paper bag mistaking other serious medical condition as hyperventilation. This means medical conditions like asthma or heart attacks. In such a situation, one needs to breathe in fresh air as oxygen supply decreases. However, re-breathing stale air causes their condition to worsen. This proves to be a fatal for a few serious patients.
Hyperventilation and paper bag seem to help only in certain mild to moderate emotional conditions. Before using a paper bag for hyperventilation, make sure you speak to your doctor for advice. You can even learn many breathing exercises and try to stay calm, during an attack. This will prove to be equally beneficial.