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Hyperventilation

in Aeromedical Factors

Hyperventilation is the excessive rate and depth of respiration leading to abnormal loss of carbon dioxide from the blood. This condition occurs more often among pilots than is generally recognized. It seldom incapacitates completely, but it causes disturbing symptoms that can alarm the uninformed pilot. In such cases, increased breathing rate and anxiety further aggravate the problem. Hyperventilation can lead to unconsciousness due to the respiratory system’s overriding mechanism to regain control of breathing.


Pilots encountering an unexpected stressful situation may subconsciously increase their breathing rate. If flying at higher altitudes, either with or without oxygen, a pilot may have a tendency to breathe more rapidly than normal, which often leads to hyperventilation.

Since many of the symptoms of hyperventilation are similar to those of hypoxia, it is important to correctly diagnose and treat the proper condition. If using supplemental oxygen, check the equipment and flow rate to ensure the symptoms are not hypoxia related. Common symptoms of hyperventilation include:

  • Visual impairment
  • Unconsciousness
  • Lightheaded or dizzy sensation
  • Tingling sensations
  • Hot and cold sensations
  • Muscle spasms

The treatment for hyperventilation involves restoring the proper carbon dioxide level in the body. Breathing normally is both the best prevention and the best cure for hyperventilation. In addition to slowing the breathing rate, breathing into a paper bag or talking aloud helps to overcome hyperventilation. Recovery is usually rapid once the breathing rate is returned to normal.

 

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