By Mick Dumdell
It has lately come to my attention that many in our family of authors and loyal readers have had some experience with a fit of hyperventilation. Some of us have even experienced disturbing spasms and involuntary flapping of the hands, feet, and gums.
While certain derisive and generally immature individuals might find hyperventilation to be a purely emotional response, based in hysteria, sound scientific evidence points instead to multicausal factors. An excerpt from Wikipedia explains:
Hyperventilation occurs when the rate and quantity of alveolar ventilation of carbon dioxide exceeds body’s production of carbon dioxide. Hyperventilation can be voluntary or involuntary.
When alveolar ventilation is excessive, more carbon dioxide will be removed from the blood stream than the body can produce. This causes the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood stream to fall and produces a state known as hypocapnia. The body normally attempts to compensate for this metabolically.
If excess ventilation cannot be compensated metabolically, it will lead to a rise in blood pH. This rise in blood pH is known as respiratory alkalosis. When hyperventilation leads to respiratory alkalosis, it may cause a number of physical symptoms: dizziness, tingling in the lips, hands or feet, headache, weakness, fainting and seizures. In extreme cases it can cause carpopedal spasms (flapping and contraction of the hands and feet and gums).
Involuntary hyperventilation can occur in response to both physical and emotional stimuli. These include reduced air pressure at high altitudes, raised progesterone levels in pregnancy, head injury, stroke, respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia, cardiovascular problems such as pulmonary embolisms, anemia, adverse reactions to certain drugs, physical or emotional stress, fear, pain, and anxiety. Hyperventilation can also be mechanically produced in people on respirators.
Stress and anxiety commonly are causes of hyperventilation; this is known as hyperventilation syndrome. Hyperventilation can also be brought about voluntarily, by taking many deep breaths in rapid succession. Hyperventilation can also occur as a consequence of various lung diseases, head injury, or stroke and various lifestyle causes. Severe episodes can result in brain damage and death.
I have personally experienced multiple episodes where my gums flapped uncontrollably for nearly 75 minutes on average. Once, after an episode in a restaurant, I was briefly committed for psychiatric observation when my condition rendered me unable to cogently respond to a police officer who had been summoned by the wait staff. Being placed in restraints only made the problem worse, and the uncontrollable flapping spread to my hands and feet. Luckily, an astute physician recognized the condition, and I was not forced to wait the entire 72 hour period before release.
The point is, the people in our circle are more likely to experience this problem due to our increased capacity for empathy. This is particularly likely during times when we encounter racism, either real or perceived, Confederate flags, FOXNews, and the word, “Redskins.” Therefore, it behooves us to be prepared. Luckily, relief is as near as a paper bag! Once again, Wiki helps out:
The first step that should be taken is to treat the underlying cause. If hypoxia is present supplemental oxygen may be useful. If it is due to anxiety as the cause of hyperventilation syndrome, counseling (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) to identify and address triggers may be useful, possibly supported by a few days of benzodiazepines. Mild hyperventilation can be treated by recycling some of the carbon dioxide released in one’s breath. This is traditionally done by breathing into a paper bag. The Buteyko method purportedly retrains the breathing pattern through chronic repetitive breathing exercises to correct the hyperventilation.
So, I urge each of you to take these precautions. I urge each of us to keep a supply of paper bags on us at all times, for ourselves and others. Just remember, “Blow — so you don’t go!”
Yours very truly,
Mick “Spin” Dumdell