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Alternative Names Return to topTachypnea; Breathing - rapid and shallow; Fast shallow breathing; Respiratory rate - rapid and shallow
Definition Return to top
A normal breathing rate for an adult at rest is 8 to 16 breaths per minute. For an infant, a normal rate is up to 44 breaths per minute. Tachypnea is the medical term that your doctor would use to describe your breathing if it is too fast, particularly if you have rapid, shallow breathing due to an associated lung disease or other medical cause.
In contrast, the term hyperventilation is usually used if you are taking rapid, deep breaths because of anxiety or panic. The terms may be used interchangeably, however.
Causes Return to top
Shallow, rapid breathing has many potential medical causes. A partial list includes:
Home Care Return to top
Rapid, shallow breathing should not be treated at home and is generally considered a medical emergency.
If you have asthma or COPD, then use your inhaler medications as prescribed by your doctor. You may still need to be checked by a health care provider right away. Your doctor will explain when it is important to go to the emergency room.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if you are breathing rapidly, especially if you have:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
The health care provider will do a thorough exam of your heart, lungs, abdomen, and head and neck.
Tests that may be ordered include:
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the rapid breathing. Treatment may include oxygen if your oxygen level is too low and nebulized respiratory treatments if you are having an asthma attack.
References Return to top
Simel DL. Approach to the patient: history and physical examination. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 6.
Schriger DL. Approach to the patient with abnormal vital signs. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 7.Update Date: 11/1/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.