What Causes Rapid Breathing In An Infant & How To Treat It?

Rapid breathing and breathlessness can occur at any age and in anyone. Often infants and newborn are known to pant or breathe rapidly. In majority of cases it is not a cause of concern unless rapid breathing is accompanied with other symptoms. Many time infants breathe rapidly but and they appear healthy. Even with such breathing they can easily breast feed.

However, sometimes there are several other medical causes which may also cause tachypnea; a medical reference for breathing rapidly. Parents should be proactive and consult their pediatrician if they notice any change in breathing of their infant baby.

What Are The Causes Of Rapid Breathing In Infants?

Normally babies have faster breathing as compared to children and adults. Usually the respiratory rate of infants is between 40 to 60 breaths in a minute. It declines gradually as the child grows older. Among adults it is 12 to 20. If the child’s respiratory rate is more than 60 breaths in a minute and if it is constant then there is cause of concern. There are several medical reasons associated with persistent increased respiratory rate in infants.

  • One of the most common medical causes of rapid breathing is infection in the respiratory tract of the child.
    Diseases such as pneumonia can cause rapid breathing. It is associated with other clinical symptoms such as high fever, cough, rattling sound in chest, rapid heart rate, poor breastfeeding, increased irritability etc.
  • Transient tachypnea which is also known as wet lung is another cause in many newborn infants for rapid breathing. This condition develops soon after the birth of child, may be in few hours. It occurs when the lungs of baby are not able to remove fluid that was present at the time baby was in the womb. Usually the fluid clears out during the labor, but in some babies it may remain especially if there is cesarean section.
    Babies born to mothers having diabetes and asthma are at greater risk of suffering from transient tachypnea.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome is a serious condition which needs prompt treatment. It is a condition that occurs when the lungs are not inflated properly due to lack of surfactant, a protective layer of lung. Respiratory distress syndrome is more common in premature infants. It is also common in infants born to diabetic mother or if the delivery is by cesarean section. The symptom is accompanied with bluish discoloration of skin and lips, flaring nostril, stoppage of breathing for a second etc.
  • Meningitis in infants is a serious condition. It is a disease of brain in which the meninges is inflamed. Meninges is outer covering of the brain. This condition in babies mostly results from bacterial infection. Increased respiratory rate is one of the symptoms; other symptoms include fever, neck rigidity, increased irritability, aggravation from exposure to light, lethargy and seizures.

Treatment For Rapid Breathing In Infants

As mentioned earlier a brief period of rapid breathing without any accompanied serious symptoms is not a major concern. It resolves over a period of time and the baby may not need treatment. However, if there are associated symptoms such as fever, cough, increased irritability, and poor feeding than it needs to be evaluated by a pediatrician.

These infants may need treatment depending on the underlying cause. Such children need constant monitoring in hospital set up. If the baby has pneumonia as the underlying cause, he may need antibiotics, intravenous fluids and artificial oxygen.