Checking Someone's Respiratory Rate: 7 Steps (with Pictures)

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Checking Someone's Respiratory Rate: 7 Steps (with Pictures)
Checking Someone's Respiratory Rate: 7 Steps (with Pictures)
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The frequency at which we breathe is one of our vital functions. When we inhale we take in oxygen and when we exhale we expel carbon dioxide. Examining a person's respiratory rate is an important way to determine whether a person's respiratory system is healthy and functioning properly.

Steps

Part 1 of 2: Measuring someone's respiratory rate

Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 1
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 1

Step 1. Count the breaths

Respiratory rate is measured in breaths per minute. To measure this properly, the person must be in a state of rest. This means that he or she does not breathe faster than normal through exercise or sports. He or she must sit still for at least 10 minutes before you can measure your breathing.

  • Have the person sit up straight. When measuring a baby's breathing, you should lay the baby flat on her back on a firm surface.
  • Use a stopwatch to time a minute. Count how many times the person's chest rises and falls in that minute.
  • If you tell the person that you are going to measure his or her breathing, they often subconsciously breathe differently. Tell him or her to breathe normally. If you want more accurate results, you can do the test 3 or 4 times and average.
  • If you're short on time, you can count the breaths in 15 seconds and then multiply by 4. This gives a good idea of the breaths per minute and is very useful in emergency situations.
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 2
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 2

Step 2. Determine if the respiratory rate is within the normal range

Children breathe faster than adults so you need to compare your outcome to the normal respiratory rate of the age group the person falls under. The normal level is:

  • 30 to 60 breaths per minute for a baby between 0 and 6 months.
  • 24 to 30 breaths per minute for a baby between 6 and 12 months.
  • 20 to 30 breaths per minute for a child between 1 and 5 years old.
  • 12 to 20 breaths per minute for a child between 6 and 11 years old.
  • 12 to 18 breaths per minute for someone over the age of 12.
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 3
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 3

Step 3. Watch for signs of breathing problems

If someone is breathing faster than normal and they haven't exercised, this could be a sign that something is wrong. Other signs that may indicate breathing problems include:

  • The nostrils open with each breath.
  • The skin has a gray color.
  • The ribs and center of the chest are retracted.
  • The person makes a wheezing, growling, or howling sound when he or she breathes.
  • The person's lips and/or eyelids are blue.
  • The person breathes with the entire chest and shoulders area. This falls under heavy breathing.
Check Airway, Breathing and Circulation Step 8
Check Airway, Breathing and Circulation Step 8

Step 4. Check breaths per minute when needed

If you are with someone whose respiratory rate needs to be measured regularly, check them every 15 minutes if it is not an emergency. If it is an emergency, check the breathing rate every 5 minutes.

  • Keeping an eye on the respiratory rate can ensure that you are warned in time of the situation getting more serious and it can warn of shock or other changes.
  • If possible, keep a record of the person's breathing rate in case you need to go to the hospital.

Part 2 of 2: Getting medical help

Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 4
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 4

Step 1. Call the emergency number

If you or someone close to you has trouble breathing, call 911 right away. Breathing too fast or too slow can be signs of the following problems:

  • Asthma
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart failure
  • An overdose
  • Fever
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 5
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 5

Step 2. Receive breath support

If someone needs help breathing, there are several ways a doctor can administer oxygen. These include:

  • An oxygen mask. This is a mask that fits over a person's face and delivers a higher concentration of oxygen than is present in the atmosphere. Ordinary outdoor air contains 21% oxygen, but if someone has difficulty breathing, he or she may need a higher concentration.
  • CPAP or continuous positive airway pressure. Tubes are inserted into the person's nose and pressurized oxygen is released from them. The pressure helps keep the respiratory tract and lungs open.
  • Respiration. Here, a breathing tube is inserted through the mouth and airborne pain. Then oxygen can be delivered directly to the lungs.
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 6
Check Someone's Breathing Rate (Rate of Respiration) Step 6

Step 3. Avoid hyperventilating from fears

Some people breathe very quickly, hyperventilate, when they are scared or panicked. This can lead to the person feeling that he cannot catch his breath when he is actually taking in too much oxygen from the rapid breathing. If someone close to you experiences this, you can:

  • Try to make the person relax. Tell him or her that she's not going to die and that she's going to be okay.
  • Have the person perform breathing techniques that reduce oxygen intake. He or she can breathe through a paper bag, purse his or her lips, or imagine his or her mouth and nostril as he or she breathes. When the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body returns to normal, he or she will also feel better.
  • You can also help the person relax by having them focus on an object on the horizon such as a tree or building. Or you can have him or her close his or her eyes so that they feel less panic.
  • Advise the person to see a doctor.

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