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Normal Respiratory Function

Normal Respirations

     When someone is breathing normally, the chest moves up and down in a rhythmic pattern. Inhaling and exhaling taking an equal amount of time with relaxation between movements.

     Breathing occurs approximately 12-20 times per minute for adults (including ages 12 and older).

For children, the respiratory rate is faster.

5-12 years breathes 20-25/min.

2-5 years breathes 25-30/min.

1-2 years breathes 25-35/min.

< 1year breathes 30-40/min.

1-30 days breathe 30-60/min

Premature breathes 40-90/min

   Reference: Weber, Janet. (1993) Nurses’ Handbook of Health Assessment. (2nd. Ed.) Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company. 142.

  If you would like to hear what normal breath sounds are like, the YouTube video above  has a good example you might find helpful. 

 After listening to the one that lets you hear “normal,” take a listen to the ones listed below that give examples of the abnormal breath sounds. In each case, the breathing is noisy in some way.  If you need to call the doctor about a breathing problem, describe what you hear.  You don’t have to try to put a name on it. 

When Do You Treat It Yourself or Call the Doctor?

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     You can’t always know for sure, but most of the time, you’ll know by instinct because you know the person for whom you’re providing care so well. However, it doesn’t hurt to know the following essential pieces of information. 

  1. What’s usually considered normal?
  2. What does “healthy” look like for the person under your care most of the time?
  3. What would a doctor consider a critical value for that lab test or vital sign if he/she were considering the information?


  Each system of the body that produces an outcome has a “normal” level of function. When that system is working correctly, lab values measuring within a specific range are normal. If the lab work is outside that range, it is an indication that something may be wrong with the organs such as stress or disease.

An interesting factor that you may not know is that gender and genetics can influence lab values. Normal values” take into consideration those differences. Therefore, “normal” blood pressure in one area of the country might be slightly different due to racial or gender influences than in another. I mention this because, at times, you may see different values listed as “normal” in different areas of the county. 


     Record your family member’s vital signs periodically, so you know what is normal for them. You want to take several readings rather than just one or two because the average is best.