Home|Clinics & Hospitals|Departments or Services|Insurance Companies|Health News|Contact Us
HomeClinics & HospitalsDepartments or ServicesInsurance CompaniesHealth NewsContact Us


What is a normal respiratory rate?

Date: Feb-11-2019
Table of contents
  • Adults
  • Children
  • How to measure
  • Abnormal rates
  • Causes of high rates
  • Causes of low rates
  • When to see a doctor
  • Outlook
  • Respiratory rates change based on many health and activity factors. Normal respiratory rates also differ in adults and children.The respiratory rate is the number of breaths someone takes every minute and is one of the main vital signs, along with blood pressure, pulse, and temperature.When a person inhales, oxygen enters their lungs and travels to the organs. When they exhale, carbon dioxide leaves the body. A normal respiratory rate plays a critical role in keeping the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide even.

    Normal respiratory range in adults

    A normal respiratory rate is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.

    Although the normal respiratory rate can vary slightly between individuals, there is a range that doctors and nurses consider usual.

    The normal respiratory rate for healthy adults is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute.

    At this breathing rate, the carbon dioxide exits the lungs at the same rate that the body produces it. Breathing rates of below 12 or above 20 can mean a disruption in normal breathing processes.

    Normal respiratory ranges in children

    Normal respiratory rates for children in breaths per minute are as follows:
    • birth to 1 year: 30 to 60
    • 1 to 3 years: 24 to 40
    • 3 to 6 years: 22 to 34
    • 6 to 12 years: 18 to 30
    • 12 to 18 years: 12 to 16

    How to measure breathing rate

    To determine whether a person's respiratory rate is normal, it is essential to measure it at rest. Remember, exercise or even walking across a room can affect a person's respiratory rate.

    To take an accurate measurement, watch the person's chest rise and fall. One complete breath comprises one inhalation, when the chest rises, followed by one exhalation, when the chest falls.

    To measure the respiratory rate, count the number of breaths for an entire minute or count for 30 seconds and multiply that number by two. .

    Hyperventilation: Causes and what to do
    Fast breathing is called hyperventilation. Learn about the causes, other symptoms, and treatments for hyperventilation here.
    Read now

    What does it mean if your breathing rate is abnormal?

    An area at the base of the brain controls breathing. The brain sends signals from the brain to the breathing muscles. Breathing mostly occurs automatically, which means a person does not have to think about it.

    Sometimes, the body needs to adjust the breathing rate. Receptors in the brain detect low oxygen or high carbon dioxide and send signals to the body, which can change the breathing rate.

    Having an abnormal respiratory rate can indicate a variety of things. In some cases, a high or low respiratory rate is due to an activity, such as exercise, and is not an indication that there is anything wrong.

    Sometimes, however, various diseases, injuries, and substances can lead to a change in breathing. In a medical setting, an abnormal respiratory rate, especially if it is too fast, can indicate a health problem.

    One study involving over 15,000 people who had visited the emergency department, indicated that a high respiratory rate was a predictor of worsening medical problems after discharge. People who had a higher breathing rate returned to the hospital more often than those with a normal breathing rate.

    There are various factors that affect a person's breathing rate, including injuries, exercise, emotion, mood, as well as a range of medical conditions.

    Causes of high respiration rate

    Anxiety can be a cause of high respiration.

    Common causes of high respiration include:
    • Anxiety: People may breathe faster when they are afraid or anxious. Fast breathing, or hyperventilation, is a common symptom of panic attacks. The fast breathing will usually pass once the anxiety goes away.
    • Fever: As the body temperature increases with a fever, respiratory rate can also increase. The increase is the body's way of trying to get rid of the heat.
    • Respiratory diseases: Various lung diseases, such as asthma, pneumonia, and COPD, can make it difficult to breathe, which can lead to an increase in respiratory rate.
    • Heart problems: If the heart does not pump properly to get oxygen to the organs, the body may react by breathing faster.
    • Dehydration: Dehydration can increase breathing rate as the body tries to get energy to the cells.

    Causes of low respiration rate

    Factors that can cause a low respiration rate include:
    • Drug overdose: An overdose of certain drugs, such as narcotics, can depress the breathing drive in the brain leading to low respiration rates.
    • Obstructive sleep apnea: Sleep apnea involves a blockage of the airway often due to relaxation of the soft tissues in the throat. The blockage causes brief pauses in breathing and may decrease overall respiratory rate.
    • Head injury: Head injuries can affect the area in the brain that plays a role in breathing, which may cause low respirations.

    When to see a doctor

    A mild variation from normal respiratory rate may not be a cause for concern. But in some cases, a respiratory rate that is too high or too low can be a sign of a medical problem.

    If respiratory rate is very abnormal, or if a person has signs of infection such as fever, fatigue, or a sore throat, they may benefit from seeing a doctor.

    People that have lung diseases, such as emphysema, asthma, and chronic bronchitis, may also want to see a doctor if their respiratory rate is abnormal. It can be a sign that their lung disease is worsening.

    Seek immediate assistance if any of the following is present:
    • chest pain
    • bluish skin
    • gurgling sounds during breathing
    • breathing very few breaths per minute


    A normal respiratory rate varies based on age and activity levels. But various conditions including illnesses and injuries can also lead to a breathing rate that is too high or too low.

    It is important to take an accurate measurement of respiratory rate to determine whether or not it is abnormal. In some instances, an abnormal breathing rate can be an indication of an underlying medical issue, which requires treatment.

    /*.mnt_dlb_foot_container { display:block; width: 728px; height: 90px; }*/
    /*@media (min-width: 990px) { .mnt_dlb_foot_container { display: none; } }
    @media (min-width:1148px) { .mnt_dlb_foot_container { display:block;} }*/

    Related coverage
    Suggested Reading-->

    What is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)?
    Respiratory syncytial virus is a viral infection that affects the lungs and respiratory tract. It can affect both adults and children, but in children and those with low immunity, it can be more severe, requiring hospitalization. Learn about how respiratory syncytial virus can be diagnosed, treated and prevented.

    Read now

    Respiratory depression: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
    Respiratory depression occurs when a person's breathing rate and depth is especially low. This can cause potentially life-threatening complications, such as coma. Symptoms include slow and shallow breathing. Read on to find out the causes and symptoms of respiratory depression, as well as how it is treated.

    Read now

    Ten causes and treatments of heavy breathing
    Breathing heavily commonly happens after exercise or physical exertion. But what about heavy breathing that occurs without having gone on a run? Heavy breathing can have a range of possible causes. In this MNT Knowledge Center article, learn about heavy breathing, why it happens, and how it can be treated.

    Read now

    What are the signs of an upper respiratory infection?
    An upper respiratory infection is an illness that affects the nose and throat, causing symptoms such as sneezing and coughing. Learn more about upper respiratory infections here.

    Read now

    What is paradoxical breathing?
    Paradoxical breathing can be a sign of a serious injury or illness, including hormonal shifts and neurological problems. During paradoxical breathing the lungs contract when a person breathes in, the opposite of what should happen. It can be life-threatening. Treatment depends on the cause, but it should be prompt.

    Read now

    Courtesy: Medical News Today
    Note: Any medical information available in this news section is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a health care professional.