What Is the Relationship between Hyperventilation and pH?

Erik J.J. Goserud

To those who are relatively unfamiliar with physiological processes, hyperventilation and pH do not seem as if they would be related. Actually, hyperventilation probably sounds like something really bad, and pH are two letters that make an "f" sound. In reality, hyperventilation refers to an accelerated rate of breathing, and pH refers to the levels of acid in the body. Hyperventilation usually occurs when acid levels are too high.

Hyperventilation is sometimes treated by breathing into a paper bag, which helps increase carbon dioxide levels.
Hyperventilation is sometimes treated by breathing into a paper bag, which helps increase carbon dioxide levels.

In order to understand the relationship between hyperventilation and pH, it is necessary to delve into human physiology. The basis of physiology is homeostasis, basically a state of balance in the body. If any aspect of the body's balance is offset for some reason, it reacts accordingly to restore this balanced state. An imbalance can occur from disease or even just a change in physical state, like exercising.

The human body typically has a pH level of about 7.
The human body typically has a pH level of about 7.

One common way that physiological imbalance often exists is in pH. Acids are substances that release positive charges in the body, causing overall changes in the acid-base balance. Acids come in many forms and can cause a range of effects ranging from minimal to life threatening. The body is actually incredibly sensitive to acid levels, with slight variations becoming deadly.

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The amount of acid in the body is recorded as a pH, a number ranging from 1 to 14. The lower the number, the more acidic, with a 7 being a state of balance. The body usually hovers around 7 in pH levels, with an 8 or a 6 being near death for most people.

When acid levels build up in the body, action needs to be immediately taken to prevent permanent damage. One way to get rid of excess acid is to exhale it. This is the foundation for the relationship between hyperventilation and pH. As pH levels fall and acid increases, the acidic chemicals reach the bloodstream. Eventually, the bloodstream makes its way to the lungs, where acid is dropped off for exhalation.

A normal breathing rate does not suffice for ridding the body of these elevated acid levels, which is why hyperventilation is necessary. This increased breathing rate helps get rid of as much acid as possible. The body also reserves other ways for raising pH to normal levels; however, the technique described linking hyperventilation and pH seems to be its favorite. Only in the complex and amazing human body could two seemingly unrelated concepts like hyperventilation and pH be so intricately related.

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