What occurs during hyperventilation?

Let’s face it, we’ve all had a moment in our lives where we feel like we can’t get enough air. Maybe it was after running up the stairs too quickly, or maybe you were trying to impress your crush by holding your breath for an unnecessary amount of time. Either way, that feeling of not getting enough oxygen is no fun at all. And what happens when we breathe too quickly? You guessed it; hyperventilation.

So what exactly is happening when we start breathing like a panicked chipmunk? This article will take an in-depth look at what occurs during hyperventilation and how to prevent it from happening again.

The basics

Hyperventilation occurs when you breathe rapidly and shallowly, causing you to exhale more carbon dioxide than your body produces. This leads to changes in the pH level of your blood, which can cause symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, tingling sensations in the hands and feet (we’ve all been there), and even fainting if left unchecked.

It’s important to note that while many people associate hyperventilation with anxiety attacks (thanks again for nothing brain), this isn’t always the case. Hyperventilation can be caused by various factors including physical exertion (again with those stairs) or high altitude environments where there is less atmospheric pressure (good luck on that Everest climb my friend).

The science-y stuff

Okay so here’s where things get slightly complicated but stay with me! Our bodies are designed to maintain balance (homeostasis) through systems such as respiration (breathing). When you inhale oxygen-rich air into your lungs, red blood cells pick up oxygen molecules which are then transported throughout the body by means of hemoglobin protein found within these cells -honestly I ship them so much- But before reaching the cells, part of the oxygen is lost in oxidation processes that release energy. Oxygen molecules convert glucose into carbon dioxide and water.

Now this is where things get tricky. Carbon dioxide has a significant role in regulating how much oxygen travels from our red blood cells to cells throughout the rest of our body. So when someone hyperventilates, they expel too much carbon dioxide too quickly for their bodies to adjust accordingly leading to an imbalance (yikes).


As mentioned earlier symptoms include dizziness or lightheadedness, inability to focus or confusion (all great qualities in your next job interview) chest pain (never pleasant but we’ve got a unicorn band-aid at home). You may even experience tremors (or shakes as some call it) who knew hyperventilation was just preparing us all for those morning coffees?

One thing you may notice when you are mid-hyperventilation is tingling sensations particularly on the hands and feet due individual nerves being stimulated ‘parasthesia’ (science chat again). And although rare some people may also experience syncope aka fainting spells because brain loves overreacting sometimes eye roll

Treatment & Prevention

The good news? Hyperventilation isn’t usually life-threatening! Although if any severe cases such as worsening chest pain with shortness of breath do occur it’s better safe than sorry attempting immediate medical attention never hurt anybody (well except Dr Phil maybe…they had that one coming)?

In most instances simply lying down flat can help decrease your breathing rate making sure airways are clear and taking deep slow even breaths per minutes also helps restore balance as well. Now I know it sounds counterintuitive given what we said previously about exhaling too much CO2 but slowing down respiration conserves which leads to deeper more relaxed breathing patterns restoring proper CO2 levels in the blood vessels (homeostasis) and thus letting ALF-S or Hemoglobin do their beautiful dance once again.

But perhaps the best way to avoid hyperventilation is by managing your breathing habits on a day-to-day basis (you know, adulting). For instance, practicing slow deep belly breaths usually carried out via diaphragm helps decrease chest-only shallow breathing which can result in higher anxiety levels and more frequent episodes of hyperventilation-affirmations also can help calm yourself down. Iron-rich foods like spinach may help since haemoglobin protein relies heavily on iron molecules.

In conclusion

Hyperventilating isn’t always preventable but it doesn’t have to be a never-ending cycle when/if you experience it because now at least you know that ALF-H & Hemoglobin pair are really looking after us, with some practical first aid tricks up your sleeve- unsexy ones at that too-smug face-. Remember: slow and steady wins the race (Panthera Leo would agree since they need sooo much energy per hunt).

Now let’s all take a few deep breaths (calming right?), think happy thoughts (link below for inspiration)

[Happy birds chirping #mindofitsown]