Gasp! Bag on head ends hyperventilation


May 07, 1991|By Dr. Gabe Mirkin | Dr. Gabe Mirkin,United Feature Syndicate

As the excitement built while he waited for his baseball tryout to begin, 11-year-old Paul suddenly became immobilized with frozen muscles, labored breathing, nausea, dizziness, a headache and an eery feeling in his toes and lips. Luckily, the coach had seen similar symptoms before. He knew Paul was hyperventilating, i.e. breathing too fast.

Hyperventilation rapidly eliminates carbon dioxide from the bloodstream, making blood more alkaline and, in turn, causing an imbalance of several minerals in the body.

Hyperventilation is common among children, particularly those who react very emotionally to the challenge of competition. The symptoms occur when people mistakenly believe rapid breathing can fill their lungs with more oxygen so they will perform longer or better. Blood coming from the lungs is normally 99 percent saturated with oxygen, therefore breathing faster won't increase oxygen uptake.

Your body is geared to voluntarily regulate its own rate of breathing, depending on how much oxygen is needed at a given moment. When you exercise, for example, the rate naturally increases to supply adequate amounts of oxygen to your exercising muscles. If you force yourself to breathe faster than your body says is necessary you may suffer from hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation is easy to treat: Place a paper bag over your head to force yourself to inhale the air you've just exhaled, containing the expelled carbon dioxide. The normal pH balance will be restored to your blood and the symptoms should disappear quickly.

The rapid, labored breathing of hyperventilation can mimic that of asthma. An asthmatic will also wheeze, since he cannot get enough air. On the other hand, the individual who hyperventilates won't wheeze; he's getting too much air.


Q: For years, I have had trouble sleeping at night, even though I feel tired during the day. I tried exercising in the evening, hoping it would wear me out so I could sleep. It didn't help. What else can I try?

A: Exciting new research from Harvard Medical School may help you and the many other people who can't sleep at night yet are drowsy during the day.

Your body temperature is supposed to fall to its lowest level around 2 a.m. and rise to its highest level around 7 p.m. People who have normal sleep patterns have temperatures that rise high and fall low. People who have sleep problems have temperatures that fall just a little, or not at all, in the early morning and rise very little in the early evening.

Scientists have long known that the biological rhythms of plants are governed by the amount and intensity of light exposure. The new research at Harvard shows that bright lights also affect human biological patterns. Often, people with slumber problems can bring their sleep patterns around to normal with stronger and longer exposure to light.

If they are exposed to bright lights in the early morning when their body temperature is at its lowest, their biological rhythm is thrown off, magnifying their sleep problems. But if they are exposed to bright lights in the early evening when their temperature is at its highest, their biological rhythm will be increased and they will sleep more deeply at night and be more alert the following day. Older people are particularly susceptible to these changes.

Check with your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist. You may be helped by a special structure of bright lights that you can sit near for several hours in the evening.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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