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Normal Breathing Rates

Expert Q&A

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Updated February 19, 2005

Q. My daughter (13 months) had the stomach flu on the weekend (Friday to Sunday), and started showing symptoms of a cold yesterday (Tuesday). She hasn't eaten anything for about 6 days now. As of today, we have finally been able to get her to keep down about 15oz a day of liquid, and her fever is reduced, but I'm noticing that her breathing is quite fast. She is showing no signs of dehydration, and we had her checked on Saturday and Tuesday morning. Both times the doctors said she was doing all right, but the bug had to run its course. I'm a little concerned still because she is breathing about 55-60 times per minute. Her cold is quite bad right now. Is this normal? Does a cold or flu bug increase breathing rate? I don't know what her normal breathing rate is, as I've never had reason to check. Diane, Canada

A. A normal respiratory rate for a toddler between the ages of one and two years is about 23 to 31 breaths a minute. Breathing at a rate of 55-60 times per minute would be considered to be rather fast (called tachypnea).

A simple cold or flu bug might cause a temporary increase in a child's respiratory rate during a fever, but it should return to normal once the fever is reduced. An increased respiratory rate could also be a sign of dehydration.

Following a cold, a fast breathing rate might also mean that a child has:

  • pneumonia
  • bronchiolitis, with wheezing
  • a worsening in her infection, with the development of metabolic acidosis
A child with asthma might also start breathing fast during a cold or flu infection if it triggers an asthma attack.

Even though she is drinking better and has less fever, you likely should call your doctor since your daughter's breathing is getting worse. This is especially important if she is still breathing fast.

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