Main Causes Of Rapid Breathing In An Infant: How To Treat It?

Rapid breathing also known as tachypnea in medical parlance is not uncommon in infants and newborn babies. In fact it can occur at any age with different etiologies. It is usual for infants to breathe at rapid pace and in majority of such cases there is no cause of grave concern, unless there are other associated symptoms.

Most of these infants are able to breastfeed without any trouble. However, there are certain medical conditions that may also produce fast breathing. Hence parents must seek pediatrician’s opinion whenever they observe a change in breathing pattern of their baby.

What Are The Causes Of Rapid Breathing In Infants?

Normally breathing rate in infants is slightly faster than older children and even adults.

In infants the normal respiratory rate is 40 to 60 per minute. As the infant grows older, breathing rate declines. In adults it normal respiratory rate is 12 to 20 per minute.

If the infant’s rate of respiration is more than 60 per minute, this needs medical attention because there may be some underlying pathology involved, especially if the rapidity is not transient but persistent.

Here are some important causes all parents must know that may produce rapid breathing in infants.

  • Pneumonia: Infection in respiratory tract is more common in infants and children. It is frequent cause for rapid breathing. Infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis are common in infants. However, in such patients there are several other associated symptoms such as high fever, cough, poor breastfeeding, irritability, excessive crying, rattling sound from chest etc.
  • Transient tachepnea: Also called as ‘wet lung’ this condition can cause rapid breathing in infants. It is a condition that occurs in infants soon after birth within few hours. The condition is said to be wet lung when the baby is not able to remove the fluid out of lung that was collected when the baby was in uterus. Usually the fluid is expelled out from lungs at the time of labor. However, in some babies it remains collected in lungs. This occurs especially when the baby is delivered through cesarean section. The risk of transient tachepnea is more when mother is suffering from diabetes or asthma.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS): It occurs when the lungs are immature and they do not inflate due to lack of lung surfactant, a protective membrane of lung. Normally surfactant helps the lung to inflate as the baby is born. Respiratory distress syndrome is more common in infants who are born prematurely. It is also common in babies born to diabetic mothers or if it is a cesarean delivery. RDS has several associated symptoms which include bluish discoloration of skin, lips and tongue, momentary halt in breathing, flaring of nostril.
  • Meningitis: Meningitis is inflammation of meninges. It is a serious disease of brain sometimes even fatal. Meninges is outer protective layer of brain. Inflammation occurs from bacterial or viral infection in the brain. Rapid respiration is one of the symptoms of meningitis in infants, other symptoms include fever, neck rigidity, vomiting, increased irritability, sensitivity to light, seizures.

Treatment Of Rapid Breathing In Infants

Rapid breathing in an infant for a brief period of time is not a cause of concern in majority of cases, especially if there are no other accompanying symptoms. Usually without any specific cause rapid breathing normalizes after some time. But fast breathing together with other symptoms such as fever, blue discoloration of skin and lips, neck rigidity, poor feeding, lethargy or increased crying, constant vomiting, etc needs prompt medical attention.

Depending on the etiology treatment can be started. Infants with prolonged episode of rapid breathing may need to be monitored and treated in hospital. For example infants suffering from pneumonia need antibiotics, intravenous fluids and oxygen.