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Reasons for quick breaths abound, from exercise to shock to lung disorders, but it's crucial to distinguish between when this is normal and when you may need to go see a specialist. Are you stressed out or having an allergic reaction? How quick is quick for you? To become aware of quick breaths, you have to start paying attention to all of your breathing.
Quick Versus Normal Breathing
At rest, an average adult breathes eight to 16 breaths per minute, or about one to two breaths every eight seconds. A quick breath for adults, then, is anything more than 16 breaths per minute. This is how hyperventilation and tachypnea, both rapid breathing conditions, are classified. However, normal breathing rates may be different for everyone, depending on age, physical health and a variety of other factors. A normal infant, for example, can take up to 44 breaths per minute, which would be extreme for an adult. When you have a few minutes, try to count your breaths to see what your particular normal rate of breathing is; that way, you'll know when you're going over.
Shallow Versus Deep Breathing
Quick breaths can be either shallow or deep. In tachypnea, breathing is quick and shallow, while in hyperventilation, breathing is quick and deep. In both cases, rapid breathing can lead to low levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, which over a period of time can actually cause lightheadedness, numbness and even fainting.
Causes of Quick Breaths
Some causes of quick breaths may need medical attention, depending on the circumstances. Of course, quick breathing after exercise or a sharp intake of breath when surprised is normal. Your emotions often cause changes in breathing, too; panic leads to rapid breathing, as in hyperventilation. The important thing to consider is whether you can control your breaths. If you consciously try to breathe more slowly, as in by counting to four with each inhale and exhale, are you able to do so? Do the quick breaths go away after a few minutes? Do you have a history of asthma that you know how to treat? If not, seeing a doctor may be the way to go. Quick breaths are not unusual, but uncontrollable quick breaths may be dangerous and signs of serious heart failure or lung disorders.
Quick Breathing Techniques
Sometimes quick breathing can actually be used beneficially. In yoga, for example, Pranayama, or Fire Breathing, a series of rapid breaths from pumping the stomach, is believed to clear the lungs of carbon dioxide for deeper oxygenated breaths later on. This kind of breathing is also believed to cleanse the body of toxins. Pranayama practitioners can slowly build up from 30 to 60 and eventually 120 breaths per minute for a few minutes, while remaining totally in control. Conscious quick breathing is also helpful in high altitudes or while exercising since it increases the level of oxygen in the blood.