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How Do I Use a Paper Bag for Hyperventilation?

Dan Harkins
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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A person could start hyperventilating for a long list of reasons, from overexertion or asthma to more serious problems like a heart attack or collapsed lung. Before rushing to the emergency room, doctors may advise trying a few at-home remedies like breathing concertedly into a paper bag for hyperventilation. This involves holding the top of the bag, crumpled, tightly over your mouth and nose, while taking as many as a dozen ordinary breaths. After these breaths, alternate between easy breaths from the gut and the paper-bag technique to see if the hyperventilation subsides with an increase of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.

Hyperventilation could be caused by minor or major conditions. Using a paper bag for hyperventilation will help some of these issues, but not all. Sometimes, a psychological condition can be the trigger, as with a panic attack brought on by anxiety or excessive stress. It can also result from any number of respiratory or blood-born ailments like pulmonary edema, asthma, infection or an ailment called costochondritis, in which cartilage of the ribcage becomes dangerously inflamed. Some of the more serious medical episodes that cause this are overdose, heart attack, stroke, a collapsed lung or physical trauma.

If breathing suddenly becomes "over-breathing" — labored and flurried, for no obvious reason — a few deep-breathing exercises could solve the problem before having to resort to using a paper bag for hyperventilation. Taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm, through pursed lips or with one nostril pinched shut, spurs relaxation and ensures the lungs are filling completely. If this is not working, reputable medical institutions recommend using the paper bag method.

Using a paper bag for hyperventilation is not a good idea for those with any history of stroke or chronic heart or lung conditions. It is not recommended for those with asthma or deep vein thrombosis, either. These people should rush to the emergency room if deep-breathing is not abating the problem. Along the way, they may suffer other symptoms like lethargy, muscular spasms, tingling or numb extremities and dizziness.

At the hospital, a paper bag for hyperventilation will be replaced with more tried-and-true methods of assessing the problem and treating it. After a battery of tests, a doctor is likely to treat this condition by addressing the cause of the hyperventilation. If a condition called chronic hyperventilation syndrome is diagnosed, follow-up with a psychiatrist could result in medication to help patients relax and breath easier.

A corresponding condition called hypoventilation is often confused with hyperventilation. This condition results in too much carbon dioxide building up in the body. It is caused by conditions like lung disease in which breathing is too shallow or sluggish.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins , Former Writer
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.

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Dan Harkins

Dan Harkins

Former Writer

Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
Learn more
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