Monday, 9 June 2008

Time to bag this idea

The claim: If you are hyperventilating, breathe into a paper bag.

The facts: Like a bandage for a cut or a crutch for a broken leg, the brown paper bag is a symbol for hyperventilation.

Grabbing a bag and breathing into it repeatedly, known in medical literature as ‘rebreathing’, has long been recommended to ease rapid, uncontrolled breathing.

Some doctors even keep bags in their office for that reason. But most medical studies and experts suggest that the method, though accepted, is dangerous and should be retired.

The idea behind it is to increase carbon dioxide levels. Hyperventilation causes the body to expel too much carbon dioxide and ‘rebreathing’ exhaled air helps restore that lost gas.

The problem is that several medical condition, like asthma and heart attacks, can be confused with hyperventilation. In such cases, reducing oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide can be deadly.

One study in Then Annals Of Emergency Medicine described three cases in which people having heart attacks thought wrongly that they were hyperventilation and died after losing oxygen while breathing into bags.

Another study said using a bag was no better at easing hyperventilation than using an open tube. For better results, experts said, stay calm and practise breathing slowly and deliberately.

The Bottom line: Most studies advise against using paper bags to treat hyperventilation.

- The New York Times

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