You’ve probably heard of using a paper bag as a First Aid technique. When people hyperventilate, they’re often directed to breathe into a paper bag for a short while. This is to help regain any lost carbon dioxide. If you think such a remedy can help relieve asthma attacks, stop right there.

Why the two should never be confused

Hyperventilation and asthma are two very different medical conditions. It’s easy to mistake one for the other because both result in breathlessness. Hyperventilation causes the body to take in more oxygen than it can handle. Asthma, on the other hand, causes breathlessness due to obstruction of airways caused by inflammation.

Treating asthma can involve clearing the airways with a prescribed inhaler (or by calling 000 if the person is not a known asthmatic), and dealing with the former requires ‘balancing out’ oxygen levels in the body.

Paper bag breathing is not recommended as First Aid for asthma because it defeats the purpose of first aid entirely. The method is used for hyperventilation because the person has to breathe exhaled carbon dioxide in order to prevent respiratory alkalosis. It’s a condition characterised by the body having high pH levels due to excess oxygen. Inhaling carbon dioxide balances things out, bringing the body to a normal pH level.

Paper bag breathing doesn’t help clear asthmatic airways, mainly because the air being inhaled is warmer. While this is actually less irritating to inflamed airways, it doesn’t replace the effects of prescribed medication.

First Aid training for asthma

Treating asthma requires proper First Aid knowledge. It’s extremely important to differentiate between hyperventilation and asthma. To do so, a proper diagnosis is critical when administering First Aid.

We at Australia Wide First Aid believe in spreading awareness and knowledge about specialised first aid.

Respiratory-related courses offered by Australia Wide First Aid include:

  • (22282VIC) Management of Asthma Risks and Emergencies in the Workplace
  • (22300VIC) First Aid Management of Anaphylaxis
  • (HLTAID003) Provide First Aid
  • (HLTAID004) Provide an Emergency First Aid Response in an Education and Care Setting