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Breathing Difficulties In Children: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Team AckoFeb 8, 2024

Breathing diffculties in babies or respiratory problems are quite common but at times they may be serious and may need immediate medical help. When your baby finds it hard or uncomfortable to take in the oxygen that her body needs, she is suffering from a breathing difficulty. Shortness of breath is termed as dyspnea. It may look and feel as though she is not getting enough of air. Seeing your little one wheezing or even gasping for breath, makes you feel so helpless. Let us learn about the various symptoms and causes of breathing difficulties in babies so that you know when it needs an emergency visit to the doctor and when it can be treated at home itself.



Breathing difficulties in babies: What should you make a note of?

You need to observe your baby’s breathing pattern and make a note of the following so that it can help her doctor diagnose better:

•When did the respiratory trouble start?

•Was it caused or triggered by anything?

•Did the breathing difficulty start gradually, over time or was it a sudden attack?

•Does anyone else in the family (family history to be checked) have respiratory problems like asthma, etc.?

•Does your baby have other symptoms like fever, pain and ache or cough?

•What is the condition of your infant and how sick is she?

Breathing difficulties in babies: Symptoms that need emergency medical attention

Based on the symptoms and its severity, you can decide if your baby needs immediate attention or not. If you observe any of the following symptoms, immediately take your little one to the doctor:

•She is gasping for breath.

•She is unable to cry or talk due to the shortness of breath or respiratory troubles.

•She has an object stuck in her throat causing breathing difficulty and choking.

•She has blue lips, skin or nails. This shows that she is not getting enough oxygen from breathing.

•She is breathing very fast. Count her number of breaths in one minute. The rate is considered too fast if, it is more than:

o60 breaths per minute if she is 0-5 months old

o50 breaths per minute if she is 6-12 months old

•She grunts while breathing. This is due to her body trying to get more air into her lungs.

•She looks very sick.

Breathing difficulties in babies: Symptoms that need normal medical attention

Though not an emergency, the following symptoms of respiratory or breathing troubles also need medical attention:

•She has breathing troubles even when she is not coughing.

•She has been earlier diagnosed with asthma or bronchiolitis or similar diseases or infections.

•She is coughing continuously or has severe coughing attacks.

•She coughs blood.

•She has a persistent fever.

•She has green, yellow or brown coloured mucus. This indicates a respiratory tract infection.

•She is flaring her nostrils or drawing in her chest muscles to breathe. Both these indicate increased efforts in breathing.

•She is less than 12 months and finds it difficult to breathe even after you have cleaned her nose.

•She is making a high pitched whistling noise or is wheezing while breathing. This usually indicates asthma or a respiratory tract infection.

•She is sluggish and not active as usual. This is due to low oxygen levels and she may struggle to stay awake.

•She is vomiting and is unable to keep her fluids down.

•She has chest pain and so is unable to take deep breaths.

•She has a cold which seems to be symptomatically increasing (like nasal and chest congestion).

•She takes fast breaths or has a hoarse voice

•She has pains and aches. Children with respiratory tract infections often complain of aches and pains in their arms and legs and often have a headache.

Causes of breathing difficulties in children:

There are various reasons for breathing troubles or respiratory distress in children. Some of them are basic and cause mild problems while others may cause severe troubles. Let us check the probable causes:

Basic Causes:

•High altitudes that lead to decreased oxygen levels

•Common cold or viral infections leading to nasal congestion

•Allergic reactions (dust, pollen, animal fur/hair, etc.)

•Stress or anxiety

•Choking on food


•Exposure to pollution like cigarettes, smoke, vehicle exhaust, etc.

Chronic Health Causes:

•Heart related conditions

•Allergic reactions that are extreme

•Acute asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, bronchiole inflammation, etc.

•Lung related conditions

•Respiratory infections like croup, epiglottal inflammations and retropharyngeal abscess

•Genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis

To conclude, most coughs and respiratory or breathing difficulties in babies get better in about 10 days. However, depending on the symptoms as mentioned above, you need to take your baby to a doctor for medical care. Based on the causes and your baby’s age, the doctor will provide suitable treatment and medicines. In addition to that, you can do your part at home by making sure that she doesn’t get dehydrated and gets ample rest.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, based on industry experience and secondary sources. It is not a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert for health or insurance-related decisions. Content is subject to change, refer to current policy wordings for specific ACKO details.



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