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Hyperventilation refers to excessively deep, rapid breathing to the extent that the patient develops noticeable symptoms. It is an unconscious response to stressful or exciting situations. The individual may feel strangely light-headed, and may feel characteristic tingling of the lips and fingertips (a dead giveaway for diagnosis). Persons who hyperventilate feel as if they will faint but rarely do. Their behavior is often mistaken for a seizure, leading to an exciting ride to the emergency room.
These effects are brought about because overventilation (too rapid movement of air in and out) of the lungs causes blood carbon dioxide levels to fall below the normal. This reduces the acidity of the blood, which in turn causes calcium levels to fall in the body fluids. It is this derangement of temporary low calcium levels that causes temporary nerve symptoms such as the tingling.
Curing the symptoms of hyperventilation basically consists of stopping the behavior. Calm, slower, more shallow breathing is in order. Rebreathing exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) by breathing into a paper sack is helpful. As the CO2 level in the paper bag rises, so will the CO2 level in the bloodstream rise, restoring normal acidity and normal blood calcium levels.
Frequent or incapacitating hyperventilation episodes probably warrant a review of stressful triggers and certainly a discussion with your child's physician about the problem. Some children and adolescents hyperventilate to a degree during exercise and may have some anxiety about the feelings of chest tightness they experience. A visit to the doctor may be in order for your physician to explain what is going on to your son or daughter and give some reassurance that nothing serious is going on.