What causes rapid and shallow breathing?

Rapid, shallow breathing occurs when a person takes small, frequent breaths of air. The rapid breathing process is also known as tachypnea. When an individual suffers from this condition, they are unable to take a deep breath, therefore air cannot fill the lungs adequately. The causes of rapid, shallow breathing can vary widely, from chest pain to a lung infection. In general, regardless of the cause, paramedics should be called immediately for a person experiencing this type of shortness of breath.

Lung disease is a common cause of rapid, shallow breathing. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an example of a lung disease that can cause this to happen. In general, COPD is considered a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Any of these conditions can significantly affect airflow to the lungs. As a result of airflow restriction, an individual may need to take short, rapid breaths of air.

Another cause of this type of breathing can be asthma. This inflammatory disorder causes the airways to become inflamed and narrow. When this happens, a person may wheeze, complain of chest tightness, cough, and experience breathing problems. One of the biggest problems is rapid and shallow breathing, which occurs when the person struggles to breathe. In many cases, a certain trigger will drive an asthmatic person into an attack that can initiate these symptoms.

Pulmonary embolism may be an additional cause. This condition is characterized by a blockage in one or more arteries in the lungs. The blockage is usually caused by blood clots. Blood clots often reach the lungs by traveling from other places in the body. Once installed in the lungs, the clots can cause a disturbance in breathing.

Sometimes rapid, shallow breathing is seen in newborns immediately after birth. The condition is commonly known as transient tachypnea as it usually only lasts for a very short time. In most cases, babies breathe this way when there is too much fluid in the lungs. The extra fluid can make it difficult to breathe deeply, and as a result, the baby may breathe quickly and shallowly.

Prompt treatment for rapid and shallow breathing is vital. Newborns with this condition are commonly treated with oxygen. Adults can also be treated by this method. When rapid breathing is due to a health condition such as COPD or asthma, patients may be prescribed medication to combat the respiratory irregularity. Some of the most commonly used medications include bronchodilators and different types of inhaled corticosteroids.

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