How To Measure Respiratory Rate

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If you are ever called to the aid of an injured party, you may need to know how to appropriately measure respiratory rate. There is a tried and true method to doing this correctly, involving breaths per minute, regularity, effort and depth, and odor.

The first thing to do is to record how many breaths the person is taking in a minute. Watch the rise and fall of the person’s chest cavity. Count this rise and fall for a full minute. This is what is calculated as RR, or respiratory rate.

For an uninjured and healthy person, this generally falls in the range of 12 to 20 respirations (or breaths) per minute. However, children will have higher respiratory rates than adults and should not be considered out of the ordinary. General guidelines for the measure of respiratory rate are:

  • Newborns: 40-45 breaths/min
  • Infants: 20-40 breaths/min
  • Older kids: 16-25 breaths/min
  • Adults: 12-20 breaths/min

The next part involves the regularity of the breaths. Are they rhythmic and regular? Irregular and hit and miss? This is vital information to give the emergency personnel when they arrive. Knowing whether the breaths taken in the respiratory rate were evenly spaced or irregular can tell them a great deal of information.  Besides the actual breath rate, regularity is the second most important part of the respiration rate.

Then, here comes the effort and depth of the respiration. Is the breathing coming hard for the individual or still seem effortless? Are they breathing shallow or taking good long deep breaths? Record this as well so that the emergency personal will have the knowledge if the person was having a hard time breathing. Recording and measuring an accurate respiratory rate is more than just a simple number of breaths. Make sure you are able to give medical personnel a thorough overview of the breathing.

Lastly is the odor of the breath that is exhaled. Smell the breath that is coming out. Is it acidic? Spicy? Fecal smelling? Fruity? All of this is vital information, as breaths that are fruity or fecal can show a severe problem in the individual.

With all these key factors to the respiration rate, doctors and EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) are going to be able to have a good thumbnail sketch of what is going on with the person and can then take the information and use it for their diagnosis and treatment. Know all the key factors that can help save a life, with the correct things to record with the respiration rate.


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