What is Tachypnea?

Tachypnea or tachypnea is an abnormal and rapid breathing. In the adult human beings, a respiratory rate ranging between 12 and 20 breaths each minute is normal and tachypnea is experienced when the breathing arte is more than 20 breaths in a minute. Kids have considerably higher resting rates of ventilation, which declines rapidly in the beginning three years of living and then becomes steady till about 18 years. Tachypnea in children can be an early sign of pneumonia. 1,3,4


The amniotic fluid that is contained in an amniotic sac is quite crucial for the developing child. The fluid surrounds your unborn baby while in the womb and cushions or protects it from any form of injury. It also ensures that the temperatures are stable so that the lungs and bones can develop properly. When in the womb, the baby exhales and inhales this fluid; it is healthy and normal.

In labor, the body of the baby produces chemicals to aid the lungs expels the fluid. The birth canal pressure on the chest of the baby releases this fluid. The baby coughs after birth so that air fills the lungs and this air should remove the remainder amniotic fluid. Nonetheless, there are times when this fluid will not leave the baby’s lungs completely and quickly as anticipated.

The extra fluid in the lungs of the baby can make it very difficult for the lungs to work optimally. Thus, the resulting illness is referred to as transient tachypnea of a child. The rate of breathing for the baby becomes very rapid. Even though the signs can be distressing, they are essentially not fatal. They normally disappear within three days after the child is born.

The other names that can be used in place of transient tachypnea are: prolonged transition, TTN, transient respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), wet lungs newborns and retained fetal fungal fluid.

Causes of Tachypnea

There are 2 major physiological procedures that cause tachypnea:1,2

  • An imbalance of the acid base in a body– tachypnea can be caused by a high level of carbon dioxide in blood as well as low levels of oxygen in blood.
  • When there is an imbalance in the acid base, tachypnea is imminent. This usually happens when there is no balance of the base and acid in the body. When the body detects too much acidity in the blood, it dispenses the carbon dioxide from the lungs as a way of ridding the body of excess acidity.

There are so many medical conditions that can lead to tachypnea. They include:

  • Central nervous system related disorders: brain tumors among other kinds of brain disorders and abnormalities can cause tachypnea.
  • Medications: there are drugs like marijuana, stimulants and aspirin that can lead to shallow rapid rate of breathing.
  • Lung related issues: Certain lung disorders that lead to a high level of carbon dioxide in the body or low levels of oxygen like pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and asthma can cause tachypnea.
  • Heart related conditions like low thyroid, heart failure and anemia can lead to grave cardiovascular variations which in turn will lead to tachypnea.
  • Hyperventilation is also another cause of tachypnea that can occur because of anxiety, pain or other such conditions.
  • Metabolic acidosis: when the levels of acid in the blood are very high, the rate of breathing goes up so as to blow off the carbon dioxide. Some of the main causes of this problem include hepatic encephalopathy, diabetic ketoacidosis and lactic acidosis.
  • A fever caused by any reason can lead to tachypnea. Tachypnea is usually compensatory in case of fever, which means that the breathing will become very rapid so as to remove heat in the body.

There is no precise cause of tachypnea in the newborn babies. This condition can occur as a result of the newborn’s incapability to absorb or expel amniotic fluid following or during delivery. Thosebabies born through caesarian delivery have higher chances of developing this disorder. The cesarean delivery process cannot aid the lungs of the baby to push out the fluid, which usually happens in the birth channel in the vaginal delivery process.

Some other elements that lead to the occurrence of transient tachypnea are:

  • Late cord clamping
  • Speedy vaginal delivery
  • A child born to a diabetic mother
  • Children born afore 38 weeks of gestation

There is also a high chance of the male babies born with larger weights to develop this disorder.


The most obvious symptom is very rapid and shallow breathing rate. When lungs have a lot of carbon dioxide, there is a feeling like one cannot have sufficient air. Some other signs include lightheadedness, fever, bluish gray gums, skin, lips or nails, chest pains, breathing that keeping worsening and a caving chest with every breath. For the newborns, the aforementioned symptoms will be present as well as labored breathing with the inclusion of moaning and grunting, and nostril flaring.2,4


The signs of transient tachypnea are linked to other medical disorders suffered by newborns. This is the reason why it is tricky diagnosing this condition. However, the doctor can review the [pregnancy, complications and labor, and make a suitable diagnosis. The physician can also test the baby. Varied tests can be required to confirm tachypnea:

  • A complete blood culture and blood count to rule out any other infection like pneumonia
  • A gas test of blood to check the oxygen levels in blood
  • Chest x-ray to monitor whether there is any respiratory distress
  • Pulse oximetry checks whereby the oxygen sensor gets attached to the baby’s foot, and allows the doctor monitor the functioning of the lungs.1,2,4


Tachypnea treatment requires pinpointing and treating the underlying causes. For instance, if there is a lung infection for asthma, issuing an inhaler will aid in opening up the airways. If the condition is as a result of anxiety or panic attack, medication will come in handy. When the baby has transient tachypnea, supplemental oxygen will be given to stabilize the oxygen levels. 2,3

Prevention of Tachypnea

There are several methods of preventing transient tachypnea. Nevertheless, there are varied things that pone can do to increase chances of getting a healthy child:

  • Not taking drugs or alcohol not prescribed by a physician
  • Stopping smoking
  • Visiting the doctor frequently for the prenatal care
  • Consuming healthy diets while pregnant and incorporating lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables1,2,3


  1. Transient tachypnea – newborn.  https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007233.htm
  2. Transient tachypnea of the newborn. https://radiopaedia.org/cases/transient-tachypnea-of-the-newborn-2
  3. Rapid shallow breathing. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007198.htm
  4. What Is Tachypnea? – Definition, Causes & Treatment.  http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-tachypnea-definition-causes-treatment.html

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