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What Is Spontaneous Breathing?

author image Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.
What Is Spontaneous Breathing?
Fresh air

Spontaneous breathing is defined as the movement of gas in and out of the lungs that is produced in response to an individual’s respiratory muscles. In a nutshell, spontaneous breathing is natural breathing. According to, while at rest, a typical adult will take an average of 18 breaths per minute. Most people are unaware of their breathing patterns unless something interferes with the efficiency of this process. In extreme cases, mechanical ventilation is used when spontaneous breathing is inadequate or ceases entirely.

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During the process of spontaneous breathing, a person inhales to allow oxygen to enter the lungs. It is the job of the red blood cells to distributed fresh oxygen throughout the body and replace carbon dioxide. This waste gas is transported back to the lungs and pushed out of the body when a person exhales.

Breathing Problems

Breathing problems include any condition that alters the spontaneous life-sustaining pattern of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. Often breathing problems are the result of normal physical exertion such as briefly running out of breath during strenuous physical activity. When the nasal passages become congested because of a cold, it can also interfere with your natural breathing. In some cases, breathing problems are a sign of a serious illness (bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer) that requires immediate medical care.


When something interrupts spontaneous breathing, its effects are usually quite obvious. Some of the common symptoms of breathing difficulties are persistent coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.


When spontaneous breathing comes to a complete stop for any reason, it is called apnea. The condition may be temporary such as when a person momentarily experiences breathing failure while asleep (sleep apnea). When breathing stops for extended periods, it’s referred to as prolonged apnea. This life-threatening condition can lead to seizures and unconsciousness and requires emergency medical care.

Mechanical Ventilation

When spontaneous breathing is absent or unreliable, mechanical ventilation aids or completely replaces natural breathing. Mechanical ventilation is commonly used in cases of resuscitation, head trauma, spinal cord injury, congestive heart failure and a number of other life-threatening conditions. Mechanical ventilation may be used for a few minutes or several months depending on the medical situation. In extreme cases, a patient may require mechanical ventilation assistance for the rest of his life.

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