We all know someone who has experienced a panic attack.
But very few of us know how to effectively help someone suffering from one.
Unlike most airway and breathing problems, hyperventilation is where someone is taking in too much air. One of the most common causes of hyperventilation is a panic attack.
The symptoms of the hyperventilation often make the casualty panic more, which creates a cycle. If the cycle is not broken and the casualty carries on over breathing, they will faint (this will return the breathing to normal). Panic attacks are likely to be very distressing for the casualty and the onset may be very quick.
Possible Signs, Symptoms and Clues:
- Overwhelming panic and anxiety
- Excessive gasping breathing
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Chest pains, or feeling that the heart is beating irregularly (this may lead to the casualty thinking they are having a heart attack)
- Shivering or trembling
- Sweating or hot flushes
- Pins and needles
- ‘Out of body’ feeling
How can we help?
Encourage the casualty to relax. Stay calm yourself.
Calmly explain what you think is happening.
Try to get the casualty to focus on their breathing, for example by taking continuous small sips of water, or a breathing exercise such as:
- Close your eyes and focus on your breathing
- Breathe in as slowly, deeply and gently as you can, through your nose
- Breathe out slowly, deeply and gently through your mouth – some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five on each in-breath and each out-breath
Mythbuster: Breathing in and out of a paper bag has been shown to be ineffective and sometime dangerous way of treating a panic attack.
You’ve got this!