Is Your Breathing Normal? Check Out This Guide

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Is Your Breathing Normal? Check Out This GuideInfographic ©

In order to detect or monitor health problems, medical professionals and healthcare providers take our vital signs – measurements of the body’s basic functions, which include the body temperature, pulse, respiration, and blood pressure. [1]

There are various types of breathing abnormalities. These are sometimes difficult for the person to self-monitor and may require medical monitoring if suspected. These include:

Apnea – suspension of breathing.
Dyspnea – disorderd or inadequate breathing.
Hyperpnea – increased depth of breathing when required to meet unusual metabolic demand.
Tachpnea – overly rapid breathing.
Hypopnea – episodes of overly shallow breathing or an abnormally low respiratory rate.

How To Count The Respiratory Rate [2]

The respiration rate is the number of times that a person breathes in and out per minute. Obtaining the respiratory rate can indicate whether an individual has any lung or respiratory problems. A change in their normal respiratory rate may indicate that their condition is either mending or worsening. [2]

1. Ask the person to sit in an upright position and relax.

2. Count the person’s respirations without his knowledge. Doing this may give you a more accurate respiratory rate, since the person is unaware and will not try to control his breathing.

3. Use a watch to count the number of breaths within one minute, or 60 seconds.

4. To count, use any of the following methods:

• Look at the chest as it rises and falls. One rise plus one fall is equal to one breath – i.e. one complete cycle.
• Listen to the person’s breathing.
• Place your hand on the person’s chest to feel the rise and fall.

Normal Respiratory Rates

The normal respiratory rate for an adult is between 12 to 20 breaths per minute; anything lower than 12 or higher than 25 while the person is resting is considered abnormal. [3]

Pay attention also to any noises that the person could make while breathing, such as wheezes, grunts, or gurgles, and check for cold, clammy skin, blue-tinged complexion and unusual dizziness – which may give further indications of what is happening. [2]

The following are considered the normal respiratory rates by age: [5]

• Birth to 6 weeks old: 30 – 40 breaths per minute
• 6 months old: 25 – 40 breaths per minute
• 3 years old: 20 – 30 breaths per minute
• 6 years old: 18-25 breaths per minute
• 10 years old: 17-23 breaths per minute

Abnormal Respiratory Rates

An unusually fast respiration may indicate pain or stress, or simply the result of a strenuous physical activity. Therefore a reading of ‘normal’ respiration should be done when a person has returned to “baseline” levels; not just after physical exertion. A person may also breathe rapidly when experiencing a fever or anxiety. [4] Other diseases that could change the normal respiratory rate of a person include asthma, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, lung disease, or drug overdose. [3]

Monitoring a person’s (and even your own) respiratory rate can help you keep track of health and spot early signs of illnesses – however for proper evaluation, professional medical consultation is advised. In cases where an abnormal respiratory rate and difficulty in breathing is observed, it is important to seek medical assistance promptly.


[1] Vital Signs (Body Temperature, Pulse Rate, Respiration Rate, Blood Pressure)…/

[2] How to Count Respirations.

[3] Vital Signs.

[4] CNA Skill: Counts & Records Respiration Rate.

[5] Lindh, W., et al. 2009. Delmar’s Comprehensive Medical Assisting: Administrative and Clinical Competencies, p.573.

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