Normal Respiratory Rates in Children

Normal Respiratory Rates in Children

With the Covid-19 pandemic raging across the world, interest in respiratory diseases has skyrocketed — and understandably so. Parents everywhere are becoming increasingly interested in how their child’s respiratory system works and what warning signs to look for to keep serious illness at bay.

We will look at everything parents need to know, from how their child’s respiratory system works to monitoring their respiratory rate. We will also look at what some of the common respiratory disorders are and how we can help parents.

How does the respiratory system work?

The first thing we need to break down is how the respiratory system works. The respiratory system “is a series of organs responsible for taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. The primary organs of the respiratory system are the lungs, which carry out this exchange of gases as we breathe” (Zimmerman 2019).

The human respiratory system

The essential function of the respiratory system is to facilitate breathing. It’s a vital system that we all need to survive. 

How is a child’s respiratory system different from an adult’s? 

Since children are not fully developed yet, their respiratory system operates a little bit differently. There are four main developmental characteristics that make a child’s respiratory system different from a fully grown adult (University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health 2019):

  1. Their airways are smaller in diameter and shorter in length. Being physically smaller impacts the system as a whole because they don’t inhale as much oxygen as an adult
  2. Their tongue is proportionally larger. Since it is more prominent, their tongue-to-mouth size is not the same as an adult’s. A child’s tongue takes up more space within their mouth.
  3. Their larynx (voice box)  is located closer to the front of their mouth when compared to an adult.
  4. Their epiglottis (throat flap) is relatively long, floppy, and narrow.

That said, their respiratory system still works to provide oxygen to the body as its primary purpose.

The respiratory system will continue to grow with the child. By the age of 12, their system will function more like an adult, and their respiratory rate will be at an adult range. 

What is the average respiratory rate in children?

The average respiratory rate in a healthy adult is between 12-16 breaths per minute.

It is vital to track the respiratory rate because it can indicate serious medical problems. For example, suppose someone’s respiratory rate is below average; that can be a sign that there is a problem with the central nervous system. If the respiratory rate is above average, that can be a sign of another serious issue such as cardiac arrest. 

AgeRate (in breaths per minute)
Infant (birth to 1 year)30 to 60
Toddler (1 to 3 years)24 to 40
Preschooler (3 to 6 years)22 to 34
School-age (6 to 12 years)18 to 30
Adolescent (12 to 18 years)12 to 16
Normal respiratory rate

How do I check my child’s breathing?

To calculate the respiratory rate in children, parents can count how many breaths the individual takes in one minute. The person should be at rest, either sitting or lying down, and parents can set a timer and manually count how many times the child’s chest rises. Parents may opt to do this while their child is sleeping and in a more predictable state. 

young ethnic mother resting on bed near sleeping infant
Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

Depending on the child, this can be a difficult thing for parents to assess. One other way to measure a child’s respiratory rate is to invest in a wearable monitor, specifically the LoveyQ monitor. This monitor is a device that is designed for infants and children that can track their respiratory rate. It can be work while the child is sleeping or awake. Since it is continuously monitoring vitals, it will have the ability to track breathing patterns over an extended period of time. Continuous monitoring will give parents more data to work with when assessing the health of their child. 

What are the signs of a Respiratory Disorder?

If your child is struggling to breathe, that can be indicative of a more significant problem. While some medical conditions are more severe than others, parents need to know the signs to help care for their child. Below is a list of the most common respiratory diseases in children (Howley 2020): 

How does LoveyQ help?

  • The common cold is an easily treatable upper respiratory infection. The illness often clears up on its own after a few days.
    • Symptoms: Runny nose, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, headache, and body aches.
    • Treatment: Children under the age of two should not take over-the-counter cold medication as it could lead to dangerous side effects. However, children over two can take cold medication at the instruction of the pediatrician. The dosage each child can take will vary based on age and weight, so be sure to check with your doctor.
  • Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu,” is another common respiratory illness. Early symptoms are similar to a cold; however, the flu is a viral illness. The flu is a more severe illness in small children as it can cause their fever to spike dangerously high. 
    • Symptoms: Runny nose, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, headache, and body aches.
    • Treatment: Vaccines can help reduce the risk for influenza. While no medication can cure influenza, Tamiflu is an antiviral medication that shortens the virus’s duration. Reach out to your doctor about other treatment options.
  • Asthma is diagnosed in 8% of all US children. It is the third leading cause of hospitalization for kids under the age of 15. Depending on the severity, it can be a dangerous and potentially fatal respiratory disease. 
    • Symptoms: Coughing, pressure or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, wheezing or whistling when exhaling. 
    • Treatment: This requires medical attention as treatment options will vary by severity and age of the child. Inhalers are a common treatment option.
  • Sinusitis, sometimes referred to as a sinus infection, is an inflammation or swelling inside the sinuses. It is often triggered by allergies or is accompanied by another illness such as the cold or flu. 
    • Symptoms: Pain or pressure in the face, feeling stuffed up or congested, coughing, runny nose, post-nasal drip that can cause a sore throat.
    • Treatment: If a bacterial infection is found, your pediatrician will likely prescribe an antibiotic. Over the counter, decongestions may help to rescue swelling. Using a neti pot to irrigate the sinuses is also a good treatment option, although often difficult to use with small children.
baby lying down on hospital bed getting a check up
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com
  • Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, which are the large breathing tubes in the lungs. Like sinusitis, it is often accompanied by the cold or flu. It can linger after the illness has passed for three to four weeks. 
    • Symptoms: Runny nose, chest pain, congestion, fever and chills, fatigue, wheezing, sore throat. 
    • Treatment: Lots of water, cough medicine, and a humidifier are all things that can help ease the symptoms until it passes. As always, check with your doctor for other treatment options.
      
  • Croup is a virus that causes swelling in the trachea and larynx. It tends to impact younger children under the age of four and is often characterized by a harsh cough. 
    • Symptoms: Coughing, a husky-sounding voice, difficulty breathing.
    • Treatment: Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may be prescribed. However, for severe cases, your pediatrician may advise your child to take steroids to reduce inflammation, making it easier for the child to breathe.
      
  • Pneumonia is a severe respiratory infection in the lungs. It can be dangerous in small children and accounts for 15% of all deaths in children under five years. Pneumonia is one of those illnesses that parents need to be vigilant about because it can escalate quickly.
    • Symptoms: Rapid breathing, high fevers, chills, coughing, fatigue, pain in the chest when breathing.
    • Treatment: Seek medical attention for all children immediately if you suspect your child has pneumonia. Your doctor may treat your child with antibiotics or antiviral medication. Having your child vaccinated against pneumonia before they become sick will help reduce their risk.

Keeping your child safe and healthy is what all loving parents want.

What makes LoveyQ so helpful to parents is that all the vital signs that LoveyQ can follow, including respiratory rate, are sent to their smartphone to access quickly. It takes the burden of monitoring off of parents. It helps reduce the likelihood that parents will miss an early warning sign. 

LoveyQ can do more than track a child’s respiratory rate. It can also track heart rate, temperature, and sleeping patterns. By putting all of these vital signs together, parents can get a comprehensive look at their child’s health. 

References:

  1. Zimmermann, K. A. (2019, August 23). Respiratory System: Our Avenue for Gas Exchange. Livescience.Com.
  2. University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. (2019, September 5). Pediatric Airway. Department of Pediatrics.
  3. Lockett, M. E. S. (2019, March 14). What Is a Normal Respiratory Rate for Kids and Adults? Healthline.
  4. Howley, E. (2020, January 9). 7 common childhood respiratory diseases. Children’s Health Orange County.

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