Breathing Into A Paper Bag

Does this actually work?

This is a supposed treatment for hyperventilation.

Hyperventilation is when someone starts breathing rapidly due to stress. It’s become a common trope to represent a character reacting unfavorably to something. For most people, this is rare.

When someone breathes too rapidly, this lowers the carbon dioxide level in their blood, which causes the blood vessels to their brain to constrict. This causes symptoms like dizziness and tingling, which can induce panic and increase breathing, leading to an vicious cycle.

Breathing into a paper bag is supposed to calm hyperventilation by forcing someone to breathe in their own carbon dioxide output, thus increasing the level in their blood and alleviating the symptoms.

There is little evidence this actually works, except perhaps as a placebo.

Why I Looked It Up

I was watching an episode of Just Shoot Me when Nina hyperventilates in response to fear of losing her job. She is handed a paper bag, but passes in disgust, instead choosing to breathe into her expensive purse.

I’ve seen this trope in media for years, clearly. But I finally got to wondering why it exists.

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