Monday, March 3, 2008


Hyperventilation occurs when an individual is experiencing emotional stress, fright, or pain, and the breathing rate and depth increase, although the carbon dioxide level in the blood is already at a reduced level.

The result is an excessive loss of carbon dioxide from the body, which can lead to unconsciousness due to the respiratory system's overriding mechanism to regain control of breathing. Pilots encountering an unexpected stressful situation may unconsciously increase their breathing rate. If flying at higher altitudes, either with or without oxygen, a pilot may have a tendency to breathe more rapidly than normal, which often leads to hyperventilation. Since many of the symptoms of hyperventilation are similar to those of hypoxia, it is important to correctly diagnose and treat the proper condition. If using supplemental oxygen, check the equipment and flow rate to ensure the symptoms are not hypoxia related.

Common symptoms of hyperventilation include:
• Headache
• Decreased reaction time
• Impaired judgment
• Euphoria
• Visual impairment
• Drowsiness
• Light-headed or dizzy sensation
• Tingling in fingers and toes
• Numbness
• Pale, clammy appearance
• Muscle spasms

Hyperventilation may produce a pale, clammy appearance and muscle spasms compared to the cyanosis and limp muscles associated with hypoxia. The treatment for hyperventilation involves restoring the proper carbon dioxide level in the body. Breathing normally is both the best prevention and the best cure for hyperventilation. In addition to slowing the breathing rate, breathing into a paper bag or talking aloud helps to overcome hyperventilation. Recovery is usually rapid once the breathing rate is returned to normal.

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