Sniffing & gasping can prevent fainting!


Sniffing and gasping for air can prevent people from fainting says a preliminary study by Dr. Marta Bavolarova, a cardiologist at , Slovak Republic.

Fainting – also called syncope is a sudden, brief loss of consciousness and posture caused by decreased blood flow to the brain. Many conditions like heart problems, low blood sugar, problems with nervous system that regulates blood pressure can cause fainting.

Vasovagal syncope – a common type of fainting, which this study is focussed on, can be caused by prolonged standing or standing up quickly. It leads to drop in blood pressure and heart rate, and a brief loss of consciousness. Recurrent syncope thus affects the quality of life and patients are often injured when they fall.

Vasovagal syncope is an abnormality in the reflex actions controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems together create the ANS. They have opposite effects on the cardiovascular system – sympathetic actions increase heart rate and blood pressure while parasympathetic actions lower them.

Dr Bavolarova’s research explores how respiratory reflexes could have an effect on cardiovascular system by investigating the influence of sniffing and gasping on blood pressure and heart rate which prevents fainting.

The study looked at two women aged 56 and 62 years with a history of vasovagal syncope. A “head up tilt test” was performed on them where they lie on a table which is rapidly tilted to a 60 degree angle to mimic standing up. The table has built in monitors for blood pressure and heart rate (using ECG).

When their blood pressure began to drop, patients were asked to sniff or gasp twice with their mouths closed and then breathe out and it was found that blood pressure and heart rate did not drop and syncope was avoided.

Previously, standing up quickly led to fall in blood pressure and heart rate and subsequent syncope in these patients which seemed to be prevented by this strong and forced inhalation by sniffing or gasping.

“We believe that sniffing and gasping have a strong sympathetic effect that inhibits the abnormal parasympathetic activity in these patients,” said Dr Bavolarova. “This stops fainting at the highest level.”

The conclusions –

1. Patients with recurrent fainting are advised to avoid standing up quickly and standing for long periods of time.

2. Those who have early symptoms like weakness, sweating or visual disturbances are advised to do some movements like leg crossing and hand grips to increase their heart rate and blood pressure.

3. Patients can sniff or gasp to prevent themselves from fainting.

Confirming this findings in a larger number of patients would definitely help improve the lives of those prone to fainting frequently!

Source –

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