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What is a Normal Respiratory Rate?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A respiratory rate, or breathing rate, is the number of breaths a person takes in one minute while at rest, and it can be measured by counting the number of times a person's chest rises and falls within one minute. An individual's normal respiratory rate will change based on activity levels and age; typically breathing will slow down as a person gets older, but it can increase during exercise or other strenuous exercise. The act of breathing is controlled by the brain, which tells the body to breath based on oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood, and certain factors, such as exercise, drugs, and alcohol, can affect a person's breathing rate. An abnormally high or low respiratory rate may indicate certain medical conditions such as bradypnea, apnea, or tachypnea.

Changes with Age

In most cases, a person's normal respiratory rate will change with age; younger adults, children, and babies will typically have faster respiratory rates, because as people age, their breathing usually slows down. From birth to six months of age, a baby's normal breathing rate is 30 to 60 breaths per minute; after the age of six months, breathing typically slows to 24 to 30 breaths per minute. For children from the age of one to five years old, normal respiration is 20 to 30 breaths per minute, while children who are from six to twelve years old should have a normal respiratory rate that ranges from 12 to 20 breaths per minute. The normal respiratory rate for adults and children over the age of 12 usually ranges from 14 to 18 breaths per minute.

Slow Respiratory Rate

When a person's respiratory rate is slower than normal, certain conditions, such as bradypnea or apnea, may occur. Bradypnea is characterized by abnormally slow breathing, and may be the symptom of a metabolic disorder or a tumor. This condition may happen during sleep, and can be induced through the use of opiate narcotics. Apnea often occurs when a person's breathing completely stops, and can be caused by a number of conditions depending on one's age; some of the usual causes of apnea in children are asthma, bronchiolitis, gastro-esophageal reflux, seizures, or premature birth.

Adults may experience apnea due to of cardiac arrest, asthma, choking, or drug overdose. Other causes of apnea that are not as common include head injuries, arrhythmias, metabolic disorders, near-drowning incidents, strokes, and other neurological disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea, a common disorder, occurs when the airway is blocked during sleep; many treatment options exist for sleep apnea, including the use of nasal decongestants, oral appliances, or positional therapy, and surgery may be required in some cases.

Fast Respiratory Rate

The opposite of apnea is tachypnea, or rapid breathing. A faster than normal respiratory rate may be caused by the flu or a cold in children, and pneumonia and asthma may also cause an increase in the rate of respiration in people of all ages. In adults, tachypnea is usually caused by asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chest pain, lung infections like pneumonia, or a pulmonary embolism.

A faster than normal respiration rate may also be induced by physical exercise, and many people are advised to speak to a healthcare professional before beginning any exercise programs. Rapid breathing can also happen if a person begins taking rapid deep breaths that are caused by panic or anxiety — this is called hyperventilation. The terms tachypnea and hyperventilation are often used interchangeably, although hyperventilation is characterized by deeper breathing and is usually brought on by emotional stress.

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Discussion Comments

By anon356502 — On Nov 25, 2013

My mom had a collapsed lung and hers was at 8.

By anon340110 — On Jun 30, 2013

Clearly, when you are trying to count your own breaths you are controlling what is being done instead of your brain controlling it as it is supposed to. The only thing wrong with you is that you either do not understand what you read or you have some sort of brain fog that does not let you understand you cannot measure your own respirations. The brain does it on its own without you thinking about it.

By anon304226 — On Nov 19, 2012

The normal rate set by the health professionals are just set guidelines. Every individual is different such as a respiratory rate of 24 is normal for some people where as for some it would count as abnormal. An individual's own set rate depends on many things that go on in the body such as smoking, exercise, obese etc. Every individual has their own set of normal perimeters that have to be taken into account. Health professionals have set the guidelines that was taken as an average of their whole research.

And yes, it is correct that one cannot measure their own respiratory rate as your brain alters the rate when you are consciously counting your own breathing rate.

By anon302512 — On Nov 09, 2012

What is the minimum possible respiratory rate that keeps a person alive without causing brain or other biological damage?

By anon280470 — On Jul 17, 2012

I breathe at roughly 10-12 breaths per minute. I'm doing the counting myself, so it's not entirely accurate. I'm a 24 year old male who drinks on occasion and smokes moderately.

At uni last year I used to clockwatch and count my breaths/min and see how slow I could reduce it to. After relaxing, I'm able to comfortably breathe at four breaths per min (15 seconds per breath), for as long as I need to, without feeling lightheaded or anything. Is it normal to be able to control my breathing to a rate so slow? Can others do this if they control it?

By anon117881 — On Oct 12, 2010

anon117419 - you have the ability to change your respiration rate consciously, so for this reason you've probably increased it beyond what it normally would be because you're concentrating on it while counting. Try having a friend count while you're unaware, count for a full minute and then see what it is. If you're still worried see a GP.

By anon117419 — On Oct 10, 2010

i just did mine, and i counted 50 breaths. is there something wrong with me? why do i breathe so quick?

By anon98396 — On Jul 22, 2010

As a 30 year old man, my respiration rate is 22 breaths/min while I do not smoke nor drink. In the same time my CGT is 50u/L. Is that related to pneumonia?

By anon75513 — On Apr 06, 2010

@Millhouse: RR of 12 is very normal, especially putting in mind that you are aware of the counting, an ideal situation is a count when you are not aware of the process.

By anon66820 — On Feb 21, 2010

I am a mom. I want to ask about paracetamol overdose. I gave 250mg suppository to my daughter 6yrs.old. My husband gave 5ml orally after 2 hrs. Is it dangerours or no?

By millhouse — On Nov 06, 2009

I just tested my pulmonary ventilation rate (a.k.a. respiratory rate) and counted 12 breaths per minute. But, I imagine one cannot properly measure one's own ventilation rate.

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