The process of external respiration (breathing) consists of two stages, namely inspiration, inhaling (breathing in) air in order to extract the oxygen from the air, and expiration, exhaling (breathing out) in order to expel carbon dioxide.
Oxygen is required by the body to release energy at cell level so that the individual can
participate in activities. The release of such energy through metabolism produces carbon dioxide as a waste product that must be expelled from the body. The presence of carbon dioxide in the
blood plays a key role in maintaining respiratory function and in maintaining homeostasis by regulating the pH of the blood (acid–base balance). A pH value between 7.35 and 7.45 is essential for
normal body functioning.
Common terminology associated with the activity of breathing, points to consider when assessing an individual’s breathing, how to monitor respiratory rate and peak flow, airway maintenance,
monitoring of expectorant, obtaining specimens and disposing of sputum, administration of oxygen, and rescue breathing.
Aerobic With oxygen
Anaerobic Without oxygen
Anoxia No oxygen reaching the brain
Apnoea Absence of breathing
Apnoeustic breathing Prolonged gasping inspiration and short
Asthmatic breathing Difficulty on expiration with an audible expiratory wheeze.
Biot’s respirations Periods of hyperpnoea occurring in normal respiration.
Bradypnoea Slow but regular breathing.
Cheyne-Stokes respir. Gradual cycle of increased rate and depth followed by gradual decrease with the pattern repeating every 45 seconds to three minutes. Also associated with periods of apnoea, particularly in the dying.
Cyanosis A bluish appearance of the skin and mucous membranes caused by inadequate oxygenation
Dyspnoea Difficulty breathing
Expiration The act of breathing out
Haemoptysis Blood in the sputum
Homeostasis The automatic self-regulation of man to maintain the normal state of the body under a variety of environmental conditions
Hypercapnia High partial pressure of carbon dioxide
Hyperpnoea Deep breathing with marked use of abdominal muscles
Hyperventilation Increased rate and depth of breathing
Hypoventilation Irregular, slow, shallow breathing
Hypoxia A lack of oxygen concentration
Hypoxaemia A lack of oxygen in the blood
Inspiration The act of breathing in
Kussmaul’s respir. Increased respiratory rate (above 20 rpm)
Orthopnoea The ability to breath easily only when in an upright position
Perfusion The flow of oxygenated blood to the tissues
Stridor A harsh, vibrating, shrill sound produced during respiration.
Usually indicates an obstruction
Tachypnoea Increased rate of breathing
Tracheostomy Making of an opening into the trachea or windpipe
Ventilation The movement of air in and out of the lungs
Remember that assessment of breathing is only part of a holistic nursing assessment and should not be undertaken in isolation without reference to or consideration of the client’s other
activities of living.
The specific points to be considered when assessing an individual’s