Paper Bag Rebreathing Is A Lie

Save your paper bags for your lunches!

Panic attacks can involve people hyperventilating, which means they breathe too much and end up exhaling more carbon dioxide than normal. The low carbon dioxide level results in symptoms like dizziness and lightheadedness.

Breathe into a paper bag, they said. Let the recirculated carbon dioxide increase the carbon dioxide levels in the person’s body, they said.

Is this really effective?

Critics say this is not the case because hyperventilation doesn’t reliably induce panic attacks. They add that high carbon dioxide levels are more associated with impending suffocation, such as from situations of hypoxia or hypoventilation.

In fact, because panic attacks are fleeting by nature, it can be a sort of placebo effect that makes paper bags look like winners. The panic attack was going to pass anyway, so the panic fading just happened to coincide with the use of the paper bag.


  1. Allstetter, W. (n.d.). Panic Attacks and “Suffocation Alarm Systems”. [online] The Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. Available at: [Accessed 11 Nov. 2017].

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