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Respiratory alkalosis occurs when the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood are not balanced.
Your body needs oxygen to function properly. When you inhale, you introduce oxygen into the lungs. When you exhale, you release carbon dioxide, which is a waste product. Normally, the respiratory system keeps these two gases in balance.
Respiratory alkalosis occurs when you breathe too fast or too deep and carbon dioxide levels drop too low. This causes the pH of the blood to rise and become too alkaline. When the blood becomes too acidic, respiratory acidosis occurs.
Hyperventilation is typically the underlying cause of respiratory alkalosis. Hyperventilation is also known as overbreathing. Someone who is hyperventilating breathes very deeply or rapidly.
Panic attacks and anxiety are the most common causes of hyperventilation. However, they’re not the only possible causes. Others include:
If you’re experiencing hyperventilation (especially for the first time), don’t assume you know the cause. Make an appointment with your doctor.
Overbreathing is a sign that respiratory alkalosis is likely to develop. However, low carbon dioxide levels in the blood also have a number of physical effects, including:
The treatment for respiratory alkalosis depends on the underlying cause.
Treating the condition is a matter of raising carbon dioxide levels in the blood. The following strategies and tips are useful for respiratory alkalosis caused by overbreathing due to panic and anxiety.
Doing this several times can give the body the carbon dioxide it needs and bring levels back up to where they should be.
The symptoms of respiratory alkalosis can be frightening. This often causes faster and deeper breathing, making things worse. Having a calm loved one provide reassurance could help get your breathing under control.
To do this, try breathing while pursing the lips or breathing through one nostril. For the second approach to be useful, the mouth and the other nostril need to be covered.
The above strategies are very simple ways to address respiratory alkalosis. People who often experience overbreathing due to anxiety can use these methods at home.
Anyone experiencing overbreathing and the symptoms of respiratory alkalosis for the first time should go to the hospital right away. The strategies described in the previous section should only be used if a doctor has confirmed the exact cause of overbreathing. Overbreathing symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of other serious health conditions.
The recovery process depends on the cause. If you develop respiratory alkalosis due to conditions such as anxiety, you can usually expect to recover fully. Symptoms should disappear shortly after carbon dioxide levels in the blood are brought back to normal.
In other cases, it may be a true medical emergency. The outlook will then depend on the severity of the underlying cause.
Prevention is a matter of addressing the cause of hyperventilation. The most common causes are psychological: stress, panic, and anxiety. You can adjust to and learn to control these causes.
Working with a therapist may help. So can breathing exercises, meditation, and regular exercise. Medication may be needed in some cases.
Good coping strategies for these types of issues are crucial. They can help lower the risk of hyperventilation and the resulting respiratory alkalosis. They can also help you function better overall in everyday life.
Written by: Krista O'Connell
Medically reviewed on: Mar 13, 2017: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
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