Breathing Problems In Children – Causes And Symptoms

5 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

breathing problem in children
As much as it affects everyday activities in adults, breathing problems are equally traumatizing for children too. Unlike adults, children develop a sense of fear of suffocation when they suffer from breathing problems. Hence parents have to be extremely cautious with the child’s lifestyle and eating habits when they suffer from such conditions. Breathlessness and other breathing problems have varying stages and phases and are caused due to various reasons for each individual. Most of the time it is just because of anxiety and stress and in some cases, it could be due to some serious problems which will need medical intervention immediately. Here, we have listed out some of the causes of breathing problems in children, signs, and symptoms to look out for and treatments that can be given for the condition.

Causes Of Breathing Problems In Children

There can be various reasons and causes for breathing problems in children which can be classified into temporary and long-term problems.
Some of the long-term causes of breathing problems are;

  •  Regular exposure to smoke from cigarettes (passive smoking)
  • Improper eating habits leading to childhood obesity
  • Dust allergies or allergic reactions towards various other air particles
  •  Anxiety and stress faced by the child at school or home can also lead to breathing problems.

Some of the temporary causes of breathing problems are;

  • Temporary breathing problem caused due to choking caused by food or a foreign object
  • Temporary breathing issues caused due to viral infections and fever
  • While traveling to high altitude regions, shortness of breath can occur due to low levels of oxygen
  • Nasal and chest congestions when affected with cold and flu
  • A sudden change in weather
  • Panic attacks

Apart from the above-mentioned causes, there are some respiratory problems that children face which will require immediate attention and medical intervention for its cure. Some of the conditions which require regular medical treatment.
In this aspect, the breathing issue in children is broadly divided into:

Upper Respiratory Tract Issues

Upper respiratory tract refers to the nose, mouth, sinuses, and throat. Any issues connected with these parts can bring about breathing problems in children.

Lower Respiratory Tract Issues

Lower respiratory tract refers to the windpipe (trachea), bronchi and lungs. Any issues connected with these parts can bring about breathing problems in children.
As the immunity of the children is not fully developed, they are prone to infections.
The main cause of infection in children that bring about breathing issues are:

  • Bacterial Infection

Bacterial infections very common in the upper respiratory tract. Sinus infection and tonsillitis are typical examples of upper respiratory tract bacterial infection that bring about breathing issues in children. Even though not that common, tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that affects the lower respiratory tract.

  • Viral Infection

Viral infection is the main cause of most of the upper respiratory tract infections. Examples are cold, sore throat, flu, etc. More often, these infections are not serious and will go away (maximum) in a week. Viral infections that affect the lower respiratory tract include bronchitis and pneumonia. In such instances, the child may develop a serious blockage in their airways and will be in need of hospitalization for treatment.
All the breathing issue in the children are not always due to infections. Other reasons include:

1. Asthma:

Age is not a barrier to contracting asthma. Asthma can start at any age. However, more often than not, it starts during childhood. Wheezing and shortness of breath is the characteristic sign of Asthma. It intensifies with the severity of asthma.

2. Allergic Reactions:

Allergies are a common cause of the respiratory issue in children. More often different types of allergies trigger asthmatic symptoms as well. Most common allergies in children are an allergy to mold, dander, dust, smoke, and pet’s hair. Allergies can bring about sneezing, either watery nose or stuffy nose in children. This will adversely affect their normal breathing.

3. Heart-Related Conditions:

Congenital or other heart issues like arrhythmias (disturbances in heart rhythm) can also bring about breathing issues in children.

4. Cystic fibrosis:

Cystic fibrosis is a serious inherited disease which mainly affects the lungs and pancreas. A persistent cough, wheeze, repeated chest infections are the important signs of this disease and it brings about breathing problems in children.

When to Seek Medical Help?

The symptoms of breathing difficulties are quite easy to notice. When you see such signs or symptoms, it is best to seek medical help immediately.
1. Choking on food or other objects when suffering from breathing issues
2. Continuous wheezing even after medication
3. Gasping for breath
4. Taking rapid breaths each time
5. Vomiting and fever while suffering from breathing difficulty
6. Worsening of a cough and cold
7. Coughing up of blood due to overexertion
8. Lips turning blue during breathlessness
9. Nostrils flaring up in each breath
10. If the breathing issue is accompanied by a high fever

Treatments For Breathing Difficulties In Children

When a child is suffering from breathing difficulties it is extremely traumatizing for the parents as well as the child. The best decision would be to visit a pulmonologist and begin treatment for the problem as soon as possible.
Before beginning treatment, the doctor may suggest taking some tests to diagnose the cause of the problem. Some of the tests may include – CT scans, Chest X-rays, physically examining the child, lab tests to check for the functioning condition of lungs, allergy tests to determine if the child is allergic to any objects or food. Once these tests are done, based on the reports, the doctor may suggest a suitable treatment based on the diagnosis.

  • Medicines will be prescribed as per the child’s age and severity of the problem
  • Home remedies may be suggested if the problem is curable at home itself.
  • In the case of acute problems, then life support measures may be suggested by the doctor.

Signs And Symptoms Of Respiratory Distress

It is easy to notice signs and symptoms especially of breathing difficulties because it will be very clearly visible on the child’s face when he or she is suffocating to breathe normally. Hence, you will need to keep a watch for such signs if you think your child is suffering from breathing difficulties. Below are some of the signs that can be noticed;

  • Increase in heart rate and breath rate
  • Paleness of the skin
  • Grunting or whistling sound during normal breathing
  • Wheeze sound during breathing
  • Flaring of nostrils in every breath
  • Lips, mouth, and fingernails turning blue
  • Chest sinking into the ribs each time breath is taken

How To Prevent Breathing Problems In Children?

Although it cannot be completely prevented owing to the change in lifestyle, the impact of breathing problems can certainly be reduced or prevented from reoccurring with some simple tips. Here are some tips to prevent breathing problems from reoccurring in children if practiced religiously;

  • Avoiding anything that may trigger the breathing problem such, places which are polluted, certain smells, dust, cotton or furry animals and pets which may aggravate the condition.
  • Ensuring the child regularly takes the prescribed medicines and inhalers.
  • Ensuring the child is well rested and does not exert himself or herself too much which may increase the problem
  • Wearing comfortable and loose clothing which is not tight around the chest and waist making breathing difficult
  • In case of allergy to dust, ensure the child’s environment is always clean and dusted.
Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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