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BREATH-HOLDING


child-breath-holding

 

Watching your child suddenly have a breath-holding spell can be a scary experience for parents.  Fortunately, breath holding is not harmful. Your child will start breathing again within about a minute.  Breath-holding spells usually occur when a young child is angry, frustrated, in pain, or afraid. But the spell is a reflex. Children don't have breath-holding spells on purpose.

WHEN TO VISIT A DOCTOR

If this is your child's first breath-holding spell, seek medical care. Although breath-holding spells are not harmful, they can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition and should be checked out by a medical professional.  Most spells are a response to strong emotions (like being angry, scared, or frustrated), but some are caused by more serious medical conditions, like a seizure disorder, heart arrhythmia, or iron deficiency anaemia. Treating these conditions may help reduce the frequency of breath-holding spells.

Once underlying conditions are ruled out by your family doctor, he/she can help you determine what trigged the spell in your child, how to prevent future spells, and how to deal with them if they continue to happen.

TWO TYPES OF BREATH-HOLDING

  1. Cyanotic breath-holding (or blue spells) is the most common type of breath holding
  2. Pallid or pale breath-holding (or ‘pale spells’) is less common that Cyanotic

WHAT SHOULD A PARENT DO?

“Follow these tips to help children through breath-holding spells”

  • Stay calm.  The spell is likely to pass within a minute
  • Lay your child on their side and watch over them until the spell ends
  • Do not put anything in your child’s mouth, not even your fingers to clear the airway.  If the child starts having jerky movements, you can hold the child’s head, arms or legs gently to prevent injury
  • Never shake your baby or child.  This will not stop the breath-holding and may cause injuries
  • Reassure other children or adults present that it is a harmless spell that will pass soon
  • Sometimes children might fall and hurt themselves during the spell.  If you think this has happened, it is best to check with your child’s doctor

PREVENTING FUTURE SPELLS

Once children develop better coping skills they usually outgrow breath-holding spells. But in the meantime, parents can face a challenge greater than witnessing the episodes themselves: finding a way to discipline the child that won't provoke another spell. Your doctor can work with you to achieve this delicate balance by helping you find better coping strategies for you and your child. Try not to give in to tantrums and obstinate behaviour; young children need limits and guidelines to help them stay safe and become well-adjusted emotionally. With experience, courage, and your doctor's help, you can learn to cope with breath-holding spells while providing a safe and structured environment until your child outgrows them.