Rapid, shallow breathing should not be treated at home. It is generally considered a medical emergency (unless anxiety is the only cause).
If you have asthma or COPD, use your inhaler medicines as prescribed by your provider. You may still need to be checked by a provider right away if you have rapid shallow breathing. Your provider will explain when it is important to go to the emergency room.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you are breathing rapidly and you have:
Bluish or grayish color to the skin, nails, gums, lips, or the area around the eyes (cyanosis)
Chest that is pulling in with each breath
Labored or difficult breathing
Never had rapid breathing before
Symptoms that are getting more severe
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The provider will do a thorough exam of your heart, lungs, abdomen, and head and neck.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the rapid breathing. Treatment may include oxygen if your oxygen level is too low and nebulized respiratory treatments if you are having an asthma or a COPD attack.
Kraft M. Approach to the patient with respiratory diseases. In: Goldman L, Schafer Al, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 83.
Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.