Is My Child Breathing Too Fast?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 08, 2023
3 min read

Sickness that affects breathing crops up often during childhood. Naturally, you want to watch out for any sign that your youngster is coming down with something.

How fast they breathe can be a signal. If it's a bit too quick, that can be one of the first symptoms of a lung infection, especially for a baby or small child. Children younger than 3 need extra-close attention because this type of illness can be especially hard on them.

First, you need to know what counts as typical, healthy breathing.

The thing to watch is how fast they breathe when they’re at rest. For children, the normal rate depends on their age:

To measure how fast your child is breathing, count how many times their chest rises in 1 full minute. If they're outside the normal range for their age, something may be wrong.

If you have a baby or toddler, call 911 if:

  • They're less than 1 year old and takes more than 60 breaths a minute.
  • They're 1 to 5 years old and takes more than 40 breaths per minute.

If your child is older than that, call the doctor if they get winded more than usual after exercise, or even ordinary activities. If their quick breathing keeps coming back, that’s another reason to check with your doctor.

Rapid breathing can be a symptom of several things. Some of the most common are:

Bronchiolitis: This lung infection affects children under 2 years old. They generally get it in winter or early spring. It makes the airways inside their lungs get more narrow. That makes it hard for them to breathe. Other symptoms may include:

It usually comes on during the winter or early spring, and the first symptoms look like a cold. Then, RSV spreads into the lungs, where it can lead to things like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Asthma: Kids who have this usually show the first signs of it by the time they’re 5 years old. Besides fast breathing, symptoms can include coughing or wheezing.

Pneumonia: This may come after your child has a cold or flu. It can be from a virus or bacteria.

Other symptoms include:

Kids who are 2 or younger are more vulnerable. They should go to a doctor if they show symptoms.

It's normal for a child to stop breathing for 5 or 10 seconds, then pick back up again on their own. But if it goes longer than 10 seconds or they start to turn blue, call 911.

If your child’s breathing pauses while they're asleep, that might be a sign of sleep apnea. This can crop up in kids between 2 and 8 and years old. There usually are other symptoms, too, such as snoring.

Breathing issues are common in kids, especially if they go to daycare or have brothers and sisters. It’s normal for them to get as many as 12 infections a year. Each one may take a couple of weeks to clear up.

Different conditions have similar symptoms, so it may be hard for you to figure out which one your child has. That’s where the doctor will help.