Rapid shallow breathing
Tachypnea; Breathing - rapid and shallow; Fast shallow breathing; Respiratory rate - rapid and shallow
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 uses 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 are sometimes used interchangeaby.
Shallow, rapid breathing has many potential medical causes. A partial list includes:
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.
Call your health care provider if
Call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room if you are breathing rapidly, especially if you have:
- Chest pain
- Never had rapid breathing before
- Shortness of breath
What to expect at your health care provider's office
The health care provider will do a thorough exam of your heart, lungs, abdomen, and head and neck.
Tests that may be ordered include:
- Arterial blood gas and pulse oximetry to check your oxygen level
- Chest x-ray
- Complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistries
- Ventilation/perfusion scan of your lungs
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.
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.
Reviewed 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.