All About Normal Respiratory Rate

All About Normal Respiratory Rate
Respiration may look very simple but it is one of the most vital signs of your health. In this article, we are going to discuss why it is such an important sign of one's health.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: May 31, 2018
Why is Respiration Rate So Important?
The intake of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide is probably the most basic, yet pivotal, function of our body. The process, as we all know, is called respiration. Although it seems very simple from its basic definition, the process can reflect the state of the human body. The respiration rate is one such parameter of this process which can reveal significant information about the overall working of the body hence, it is considered very important to maintain a normal respiratory rate.
Respiratory rate, also known as breathing rate, is defined as the number of breaths (inhalation and exhalation) a living being takes per minute. It is calculated by counting the number of times a person's chest expands and contracts in one minute. The unit of respiratory rate is breaths per minute. This rate can range from a low of 12 breaths per minute in resting adults to a high of 75 breaths per minute in case of athletes while doing extremely strenuous work. But these rates are not called normal, as they are recorded in special conditions.
What is Normal Rate?
Normal respiratory rate may be defined as a person's respiratory rate while resting. This rate varies with many factors, viz., age, sex, or medical conditions, like asthma, seizures, bronchitis, premature birth, acid reflux disease, etc. The rate should be measured when a person is resting and his/her stress levels are at a minimum. The best way is to count the breaths when the person is not aware of its being measured. This rate has a trend of lowering with age. Newborns have a high normal respiratory rate, which lowers as they grow. The main reason for this lowering of respiration rate with age is the rise in capacity of lungs as a person grows old. Even though an adult breaths less frequently than a child, the volume of air inhaled and exhaled by an adult is many times more than that inhaled by a child.
Age-Wise Normal Respiratory Rates
Here's the age-wise range:
  • Newborns: Average 44 breaths per minute. Can vary anywhere between 30 to 60 breaths per minute.
  • Infants (up to 6 months): 20-40 breaths per minute.
  • Preschool children: 20-30 breaths per minute.
  • Older children: 16-25 breaths per minute.
  • Adults: 12-25 breaths per minute.
Importance of a Good Respiration Rate
Keeping track of normal respiratory rate is vital, as an abnormally high or low numbers of breaths per minute can be indicative of many health problems. The condition with an abnormally high respiratory rate is known as tachypnea, and if the breaths per minute are lower than usual it is known as bradypnea.
  • Tachypnea:
    This condition of a respiratory rate faster than normal can be attributed to ailments like flu or a cold in children. Some other causes also include pneumonia and asthma, which may increase the rate of respiration. In adults, causes of tachypnea usually include asthma, lung infections like pneumonia, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or a pulmonary embolism.
  • Bradypnea:
    This abnormal drop in the normal respiratory rate is considered as a symptom of a metabolic disorder or some kind of tumor. It may also occur while a person is sleeping or can be stimulated by the use of opiate narcotics. Alcoholism, administering of benzodiazepines, or even morphine can cause lower respiratory rates.

Another abnormal respiratory condition is apnea, which is complete stopping of a person's breathing. Causes of adults experiencing apnea may be cardiac arrest, choking, asthma, or drug abuse. A common disorder in adults is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs due to the airway blocking during sleep.
Those with any of the above symptoms need not worry, but they definitely need to be concerned, as they are a case with an abnormal respiratory rate. The above information should surely help clear any doubts, as the respiratory rate reflects the overall health of a person, and can predict a lot on the future health as well.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.
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