Respiration, the act of breathing, is one of the four vital signs that help indicate the level of physical functioning. The other vital signs include blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Because children frequently cannot articulate when something is wrong, doctors use respiration as one indicator to identify a potential problem.
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Normal respiration is a mechanism by which our body delivers oxygen to the cells and removes carbon dioxide produced by cell processes. Respiration is a complex process that involves organs such as nose, mouth, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, diaphragm and lungs.
Normal paediatric respiration rates, also sometimes called breathing rates, have a low/high range that depends on the age of the child. Because the lungs of an infant are not as efficient as the lungs of an adult, respiration rate decreases as you get older. Depending on your source of information, the range of normal respiration by age varies slightly. According to Dallas Allergy Immunology, the ranges are:
Newborns: 35 to 70 breaths per minute
One-year olds: 25 to 35 breaths per minute
Preschool+: 20 to 25 breaths per minute
10 years old+: 15 to 20 breaths per minute
Once over 12 years old, the normal respiration rate stabilises to about 12 to 20 breaths per minute.
Measuring Respiration Rate
You can measure respiration rate by counting how many breaths the child takes in a minute. According to Dallas Allergy Immunology, children are “belly breathers.” This means that when they breathe, their belly goes in and out, making it relative easy to count respirations. You can also place your hand on a child’s tummy or chest to feel respirations. Because children often will not sit still for a full minute, you can count respirations for 15 seconds and then multiple that number by four in order to get the respiration rate for a full minute.
Measuring Respiration Function
It is possible that respiration rate is normal even though respiration functions, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange, are not. Depending on the age of the child, your doctor may use other tests to measure respiration and lung function. These tests include spirometry, lung volume and diffusion capacity. Some tests, such as spirometry, are not useful with young children because the child is not yet capable of performing the test correctly.
Abnormal respiration may not always be indicated by increased respiration rate. Signs of abnormal respiration may include rapid breathing, skin between the ribs is pulled tight, flared nostrils, skin coloured pale or blue and coughing that causes gagging or vomiting.
Respiration is a critical bodily function. If you suspect that a child is having difficulty breathing, go to the hospital emergency department immediately.
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