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Eupnea is the formal medical term used to describe normal respiration. The roots of the word literally mean “good breathing.” If a patient has eupnea, it means that the respiration is not a cause for concern. Patients who have difficulty breathing are assessed to determine why so that appropriate treatments can be offered. In patients with chronic conditions involving the lungs and airways, it may be difficult to stabilize the respiration to make the patient comfortable.
When a patient is breathing normally, respiration is unlabored. The lungs inflate and deflate easily without effort on the patient's part and the breathing is usually quiet. No obstructions are present to limit the flow of air or make the breathing noisy and the patient doesn't experience tightness, pain, or other symptoms in the chest that might make breathing difficult. Eupnea is also steady, with a regular respiratory rate.
Patients who are breathing normally should be getting enough oxygen to supply the needs of the body. They do not feel starved for air and do not have symptoms such as bluing of the extremities. In a patient who is breathing normally but feels oxygen deprived or has symptoms like an altered level of consciousness, these symptoms indicate that something is wrong with the system the body uses to convey oxygen to the cells. Eupnea in combination with cardiovascular disease, for example, may mean that the patient is getting enough oxygen through the lungs, but the circulatory system can't carry the oxygen to the body.
Eupnea is also known as resting breathing or quiet respiration. Having labored, hard breathing does not necessarily mean that someone is unhealthy. People breathe harder and more deeply while they exercise. As long as an exerciser is breathing regularly and does not feel oxygen-starved, it indicates that exercise is taking place within the person's physical limitations and that he or she is healthy. The more people work out, the less hard they will have to work, explaining why some runners barely breathe hard on a jog, while people new to running may struggle for air.
When a patient is not breathing properly, testing can be used to find out why and to develop a treatment plan to address the matter. Treatments can include medication to control inflammation, oxygen supplementation for patients who are not getting enough oxygen, and exercise to increase lung capacity and general physical fitness. People who notice sudden changes in their breathing should consult a physician for evaluation, especially if breathing is labored or breathing creates a burning or tightening sensation in the chest.