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What Does Hyperventilation Feel Like?


Lenna
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My teenage son has POTS but has been feeling pretty good lately. Today he was riding his bike and called me to say he was really sick and needed to be picked up. When I got there, he was sitting at the side of the road. He said he had been wheezing - couldn't get enough oxygen into his lungs, and that led to a full POTS episode. By the time I got there, his breathing was normal but he was sweating profusely and was very lightheaded, etc.

Even before my son developed POTS, there were several times he had mentioned that he thinks he has exercise-induced asthma because he occasionally can't get enough air in during aerobic exercise.

Obviously, we'll let his doctor know about this, but in the meantime I'm wondering if this is just part of POTS. I know that hyperventilation is a common symptom, but at the risk of sounding stupid, I don't really know what that means. What does it feel like to hyperventilate? Does it feel like you can't get enough air into your lungs? Does it make you wheeze?

Lenna

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I believe that generally hyperventilating is when someone is panicking, and so they are scared and start "panting" and then get lightheaded and feel like they dont have enough air. So I am guessing that this isnt what your son was experiencing, unless he was getting really worried about feeling sick and being away from home. I will have trouble breathing sometimes, as will many other people here, including when I am exercising, I do believe that it is just something that happens to people with POTS for various reasons.

Best of luck to you both,

Mary

This is a defenition I found:

Definition

Hyperventilation is rapid or deep breathing, usually caused by anxiety or panic. This overbreathing, as it is sometimes called, may actually leave you feeling breathless.

When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing may lead to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, which causes many of the symptoms that you may feel if you hyperventilate.

this is the site where I got that, there is also a lot more info on it: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003071.htm

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I recently (Feb.) was in the ER for a "panic attack". At this time, I had not been dx and was not sure what was happening. It started with other POTS symptoms that I had for a few weeks. I had seen a dr. a few times... no clues. Anyway... I fainted in the shower because of the other symptoms and couldn't stand. I had to bang on the walls for my husband to come get me out. I said take me to the ER - something is not right. So on the way to the ER (15 min drive) I started going into this panic attack because I was feeling SO strange from all the other stuff. My lips where tingly first. I noticed I had really shallow breathing so I tried to slow it down, but was unsuccessful. Soon, my fingertips were tingly too. Then my toes... It worked it's way up my legs and arms. Soon my hands where curling up and I couldn't move them. The muscles where so tight they hurt really bad! I had to have my husband (while he's driving and calling 911) pull my hands straight again - but they wouldn't stay. My arms, legs, face and even my midsection were numb and tight as they could be. I thought I was becoming paralized. As soon as we met the parametics, they slowly calmed my breathing. It took about an hour and a half before the numbness was totally gone. They informed me that the hyperventalation was cutting off the oxygen to my body so everything was "falling asleep". If I had gone much longer, I would have passed out. Passing out is a way for the body to shut itself down so it can start you breathing properly again. Sad thing is, they only saw the panic attack symptoms (hperventalation) and not all the other the POTS symptoms. So they sent me on my way after a few tests - thinking I was crazy!

So... I didn't wheeze or anything like that - just short, useless breaths... tingly all over... lead to numbness all over. I get this still from time to time, but now know what is happening so I slow myself down - take deep breaths in and out - counting to five in and out - REALLY SLOW. I hope this explination helps! Glad to hear he can even ride his bike - even if it's only for a short time! I don't know if I could go two blocks on a bike. Hope he's feeling better!

Hollie

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Thanks for your replies. He really feels like he was wheezing; maybe he does have asthma. Anyway, the good news is that although it led to a full blown POTS episode, he felt better within an hour. Four months ago it would have taken him a week to recover!

Your replies helped. Thanks.

-Lenna

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It sounds like a type of exercise-induced asthma to me. I found an interesting site stating that doctors are often misdiagnosing exercise-induced asthma for exercise-induced hyperventilation and vice-versa. Here is the link and in there it states the difference between the two is that exercise-induced asthma almost always involves coughing or wheezing whereas hyperventilation does not.

I'm really prone to hyperventilation, especially when I'm stressed...I can tell you from experience, it doesn't feel like I'm gasping for air or struggling to breath when I'm hyperventilating...More like my breathing just got switched into "high gear" and I have trouble getting it back down. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm hyperventilating until my hands start tingling. When this happens I automatically check my breath because I'm most likely taking really short quick breaths and I don't even notice!

Soon, my fingertips were tingly too. Then my toes... It worked it's way up my legs and arms. Soon my hands where curling up and I couldn't move them. The muscles where so tight they hurt really bad! I had to have my husband (while he's driving and calling 911) pull my hands straight again - but they wouldn't stay. My arms, legs, face and even my midsection were numb and tight as they could be. I thought I was becoming paralized.

Hollie, your story really hit home for me! I had an experience, when I was TWELVE that was pretty much the same thing you had! I was on a carnival ride and it was the last ride of the night so the guy controlling the ride asked if we wanted an extra long ride...It was that ride that swings around upside down over and over. Well, I had never been on that ride and I thought it would be fun so we all agreed. Once it started, I wanted to get off but I couldn't. I basically freaked out and felt so sick once the ride finally stopped. My friend's mom had to take me home and in the car my legs, arms, etc all numb...My hands were clenched up in a weird way (really stiff and could not move) and I had NO IDEA what happened...It passed shortly after I got home and settled down. My mom was just about to take me to the ER. Nothing like that ever happened again, as I had no history with panic or anything back then. I now realize that was my FIRST panic attack!! Crazy, I guess I had it in me all along. Thanks for sharing your story though, that whole clenched hands and numb legs thing was a total mystery to me even to this day...And I've had plennnnnty of panic attacks today where all that will tingle at most is my hands and arms!

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Guest tearose

I hyperventilated in an airplane. It was horrible.

I felt lightheaded and I was breathing and felt like I wasn't getting any air! I could feel my heart start to race. I needed to bring my legs up to my chest and bend forward. I reached for electrolytes and water and stayed hunched over for nearly thirty minutes. This was about 20 minutes after take off. I felt better and realized that the cabin pressure was changing faster than my body was! I felt this way on my return flight too and it was again horrible.

I think this is something I will have to work on if I need to travel by air again.

Maybe I don't get them on land because I take measures to keep compressed.

best regards,

tearose

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Be careful of that exercise induced asthma diagnosis, I was diagnosed with that 12 years ago and treated agressively (steroid inhalers and albuterol) which never helped. After being enrolled in an insurance sponsored asthma program where they annoy you monthly by phone and give you a peak-flow meter, I noticed something: my peak flow was always excellent >450, even when I was symptomatic. After meeting my yearly medical deductible in February this year, I insisted on going to a pulmonary doc and actually getting tested: guess what, no asthma (lung capacity was 130% of normal and diffusion was 230% of expected.) However during the cardio stress test my heart rate went way up very quickly (180 bpm) and I became symptomatic (hard to breathe, feeling wheezy.) When your heart is beating 3 times a second it becomes hard to breathe! Have him check his pulse and get him a peak flow meter. Albuterol never helped me ( it is an alpha-adrenergic agonist-makes adrenaline more active.) Don't let them tell you "I don't have to test you, you have..."

Good luck!

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