Your hyperventilation is what I term “exertional”, that is, you breathe faster when you do some physical activity. The oxygen supply to your brain and body is adequate when you are at rest, but when you do anything your muscles use up most of the available oxygen so the brain ends up deprived. Nerve centres in the hypothalamus panic and send messages to the respiratory centre in the brainstem to work harder. The result is the quicker breathing and faster heart rate that characterise hyperventilation.
The oxygen level in blood depends on how much the lungs can supply and whether the blood is capable of carrying it. Anaemia, for example, reduces the blood’s capacity to absorb oxygen. In heart disease, the heart pumps slowly so oxygen is transported more slowly, the supply falls and the brain is put on alert as I explain above.
Obstructive lung disease can cause the same symptoms. The process of exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen starts on the internal lung surface, w here the capillaries (little blood vessels) are exposed to air as you breathe in after exhaling. Carbon dioxide is then released from the blood and oxygen absorbed in its place. The amount of oxygen reaching the tiny sacs in the lungs called the alveoli depends on how much air reaches them. If the bronchial tubes are full of mucus, because of a cold or hay fever, or constricted due to an allergic reaction such as asthma, the flow of air is abstructed. Sometimes, as in emphysema, the walls of the alveoli lose their elasticity and become permanently inflated. Because the walls don’t inflate and deflate to allow the exchange of gases, the circulation of air is hampered and the result is a poor supply of oxygen.
Digestive problems can also be a factor. If there is a lot of gas in the abdomen (or fluid, as in pregnancy), the up and down movement of the diaphragm is restricted and the gaseous exchange is again affected.
Here are my suggestions:
- Drink relaxing herb tea, such as camomile, a fresh mint infusion or Dr Ali’s Relaxation Tea.
- Avoid the following foods, which cause excess mucus in the lungs and/or gas in the abdomen: very cold water or drinks, ice cubes, ice cream, dairy products, bananas, spicy food, vinegar, citrus fruit, yeast products, fizzy water, chickpeas, radishes, mushrooms, bran flakes, stalks of cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus, beer, champagne and canned products.
- To help clear mucus and facilitate clear breathing take lauq sepistan (Hamdard,): half a teaspoonful daily for one month, or Alive Cold Relief, a mix of traditional herbal supplements : infuse a sachet for two to three minutes, cool for five minutes and drink with a teaspoonful of honey (preferably manuka) once a day, or twice if the breathlessness is severe.
- Kadu, three wigs, and kariatu, one third of a teaspoonful: soak these together in a cup of hot water overnight. Strain and drink in the morning on an empty, stomach to help relieve gas.
- Expelling air forcefully through the nostrils helps to exercise the-diaphragm and forces the airway to open up so that breathing is eased. Look upwards and inhale, billowing out your abdomen, then exhale by sucking in your abdominal wall to force the dome of the diaphragm up and expel the air through the nostrils with a ‘whoosh’. Repeat ten to l5 times. Then look straight ahead and repeat the same ‘whoosh’ expulsion of air, ten to l5 times. Finally, look down and repeat. Do this cycle twice daily.
- Also do alternate nostril breathing hold your right thumb over your right nostril and your right middle finger over the left nostril. Close your right nostril and inhale as above, then lift your thumb, close your left nostril and expel the air forcefully through your right nostril. Now repeat the other way. Repeat the cycle l5 times in quick succession.
- There are general breathing exercises on my Lifestyle DVD (Integrated Health Group, and Therapeutic Yoga, which I co-wrote with Jiwan Biar.
- Sometimes the neck is very stiff, which restricts blood flow to the brain. Massage the neck and shoulders twice a week for two months. The improved blood flow can facilitate better oxygen supply to the brain and help reduce the panic breathing.