Why Do I Hyperventilate When I Cry?

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A wide range of emotional and physical issues can cause hyperventilation. Some causes, such as diabetic ketoacidosis, are medical emergencies. However, severe or life-threatening causes of hyperventilation are usually accompanied by additional symptoms. Stay calm and use nostril belly or nostril breathing to slow and bring your breathing rate to be normal. When hyperventilation is caused by a medical condition, treating the underlying issue usually helps to stabilize a person’s breathing. When the cause of hyperventilation is emotional, learning methods to reduce and manage stress can be beneficial. Whatever the cause of hyperventilation is, it is critical to consult a doctor to find an appropriate treatment.

Hyperventilation is deep or rapid breathing mainly caused by panic or anxiety. It is a condition that makes one start breathing very fast, leaving you feeling breathless.

Healthy breathing happens when there is a balance between breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. Excessive breathing leads to low levels of carbon dioxide in your blood, causing hyperventilation.

When you cry, your heart rate increases, slowing your breathing. The more you cry, the greater the hyperventilation.

Why do I hyperventilate when I cry?

Crying can be pretty exhausting for any person, be it a baby or an adult, as it takes a lot of energy out of you. It’s something that requires a lot of muscles in your face and body to act and takes over your whole body.

When you cry, your heart rate increases and your breathing slows down. The more intense you cry, the greater your chances of hyperventilating.

As you cry, it messes up your breathing, and your regular respiratory function of the lungs and diaphragm is affected. Your diaphragm helps regulate inhalation and exhalation, helping manage the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Crying messes things up and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels go haywire. As the diaphragm tries to maintain these levels by breathing, it becomes irregular, sometimes inhaling twice and becoming double breathing.

This results in hyperventilating. However, it doesn’t leave any significant impact on the person suffering from it if it occurs a few times due to crying.

But sometimes, a person could hyperventilate due to other reasons as well, which would mean there’s a need to look into these other factors and solve the issue.

Common causes of hyperventilation during crying

Vigorous crying may lead to hyperventilation. Besides crying, many other factors can cause hyperventilation, such as nervousness, stress, panic, or anxiety. Other causes are:

  • Pregnancy
  • Severe pain
  • Drug overdose
  • Lungs infection such as asthma
  • Heart attacks
  • Head injury
  • Infections such as pneumonia
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis
  • High altitude
  • Shock
  • Hard exercise

Physical symptoms of hyperventilation during crying

When you have hyperventilation, you may not be aware if you are over-breathing. Hyperventilation symptoms may last 20 to 30 minutes.

A young man is sniffling after crying and using a tissue to wipe his nose.

You should seek medical attention if you have the following symptoms:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weakness or confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent yawning
  • Muscle spasms in feet and hands
  • tingling and numbness around your mouth or arms
  • Bloating, dry mouth, or belching

Some symptoms may occur less often and may not be related to hyperventilation, such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Twitching
  • Sweating
  • Low concentration
  • Loss of consciousness

Hyperventilation diagnosis

Since hyperventilation can have a variety of causes, a doctor must examine all of a patient’s symptoms. They may conduct a physical examination and ask about a person’s medical history.

Some causes of hyperventilation, such as infections, can be diagnosed using a chest X-ray and blood tests.

A doctor can do an arterial blood gas test to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. The test will determine whether hyperventilation has reduced blood carbon dioxide levels.

Coping strategies for hyperventilation during crying

Coping or treating hyperventilation aims to increase the level of carbon dioxide in the blood to slow your breathing rate.

It is crucial to stay calm if you’re hyperventilating or have someone walk you through the episode.

A young woman is trying to help her grandma calm down from hyperventilating after crying.

Some ways to cope with hyperventilation include:

  • Breathing through pursed lips. This will help you breathe in less oxygen hence increasing your carbon dioxide. 
  • See a psychologist or a psychiatrist if you have conditions such as panic attacks or anxiety.
  • Practice breathing techniques to help you relax and breathe from your diaphragm and abdomen instead of using your chest wall.
  • Comforting words, depending on the situation, from a friend or family member, such as “you are doing fine” and “you are not going to die,” can help you relax your breathing.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation.
  • Regular exercising.
  • Using medication such as alprazolam, paroxetine, and doxepin.

You can also use home remedies to treat hyperventilation if the condition is mild or occurs due to crying, stress, or anxiety. Such home remedies include:

  • Take off any tight clothing, such as ties, belts, or tight bras, and lay down to focus and relax.
  • Belly breathing by breathing from the diaphragm instead of the chest.
  • Nostril breathing by blocking one nostril and breathing through the other one.
  • Breathing slowly into capped hands or a paper bag.
  • Holding your breath for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • You can use the 7 to 11 rule, where you should inhale for 7 seconds and exhale for 11 seconds to calm yourself down.

Ways to help a friend who is hyperventilating while crying

Be kind and try to reassure the person. Take them to a quiet location, as it could assist them in regaining control of their breathing.

Request that any bystanders leave. Give them some breathing room.

In this case, do not advise the person to breathe into a paper bag because this could worsen the situation.

Encourage them to seek medical advice from a doctor to learn how to prevent and control hyperventilation and anything that causes it.

Hyperventilation in children is rare, so you should look for other causes.

Important points to remember for hyperventilation during crying

The table below summarises the causes, symptoms, and coping strategies for hyperventilation during crying.

Causes of hyperventilationSymptoms of hyperventilationCoping strategies for hyperventilation during crying
1. Pregnancy1. Lightheadedness1. Breathing through pursed lips
2. Severe pain2. Sleep disturbances2. Practising meditation
3. Drug overdose3. Weakness or confusion3. Regular exercises
4. Lungs infection such as asthma4. Chest pains4. Using medication such as alprazolam, paroxetine, and doxepin
5. Heart attacks5. Shortness of breath5. Holding your breath for 10 to 15 minutes
6. Head injury6. Frequent yawning6. Use words of encouragement such as “you are doing fine”  
7. Infections such as pneumonia7. Muscle spasms in feet and hands
8. Diabetic ketoacidosis
8. tingling and numbness around your mouth or arms
9. Shock9. Bloating, dry mouth, or belching
10. High altitude
11. Hard exercise  


FAQs

Is hyperventilation life-threatening?

Hyperventilation, in some cases, can be life-threatening if immediate medical care is not taken. See the doctor immediately if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing.

Can someone hyperventilate when crying?

When you cry, your heart rate increases, slowing your breathing. The more you cry, the greater the hyperventilation.

Is hyperventilation common during pregnancy or labor?

Yes, If the woman is having a baby for the first time, rapid, deep breathing to push the baby can cause hyperventilation and a brief blackout.

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