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How To Count Respirations

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

Respirations are when you breathe in and out. Your respiratory, or breathing, rate is the number of times you breathe in and out in 1 minute. Most people breathe in and out 12 to 20 times every minute.

DISCHARGE INSTRUCTIONS:

Why respirations are counted:

People who are ill, such as those with lung or heart disease, may need to have their respirations counted. The respiratory rate can show how a person's body is doing. A change in the respiratory rate may be a warning sign that the person's condition is getting worse.

How to count respirations:

  • Ask the person to sit upright.
  • Try to count the other person's respirations without his knowing. If he knows, he may try to control his breathing. This can give a false respiratory rate.
  • Use a watch with a second hand and count his breaths for 60 seconds. Use any of the following methods to count:
    • Look at his chest rise and fall. One rise and one fall are counted as 1 breath.
    • Listen to his breaths.
    • Place your hand on the person's chest to feel the rise and fall.

Contact the person's healthcare provider if:

  • The person has a breathing rate that is less than 12 or more than 25.
  • The person makes noise when he breathes, such as grunts, wheezes, or gurgles.
  • The person feels dizzy or more tired than usual.
  • The person has cold, clammy, sweaty skin.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • The person has to sit upright to breathe or lifts his shoulders when he breathes in.
  • The person purses his lips when he breathes.
  • The person has retractions (pulling in of the skin between the ribs and around the neck with each breath).
  • The person cannot speak because he has trouble breathing.
  • The person has blue nails or lips.
  • The person stops breathing.
  • The person has a seizure.
  • The person has a hard time staying awake or thinking clearly.
  • The person has a fast heartbeat or chest pain.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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