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Breathing Problems in Children

Call 911 if your child:

  • Is gasping for breath
  • Can't cry or talk because of breathing trouble
  • Grunts when breathing
  • Has blue lips
  • May have a small object caught in her throat
  • Is breathing very fast (this is also a symptom of fever)
  • Looks very sick

  • Is gasping for breath
  • Can't cry or talk because of breathing trouble
  • Grunts when breathing
  • Has blue lips
  • May have a small object caught in her throat
  • Is breathing very fast (this is also a symptom of fever)
  • Looks very sick

Breathing problems are common in young children, but in some cases they can be serious. 

Call the Doctor If Your Child:

Call the doctor if:

  • Is younger than 1 year old and still has trouble breathing after you cleaned out her nose
  • Has bronchiolitis or a reactive airways disease episode
  • Has trouble breathing or is breathing very fast when not coughing
  • Has severe coughing attacks or continuous coughing
  • Is wheezing  or making a high-pitched whistle sound when breathing out or in
  • Can't take a deep breath because of chest pain or coughed-up blood
  • Has a fever that persists
  • Flares her nostrils or draws in her chest muscles to breathe
  • Is sluggish
  • Is vomiting and can't keep fluids down
  • Has a cold that gets worse quickly

1. Prevent Dehydration

  • Give babies plenty of breast milk or formula.
  • Give older children water or juice mixed with water.
  • Children may eat more slowly because of breathing problems, so give them plenty of time.

2. Relieve Congestion

  • Thin mucus in a stuffy nose with saline nose drops.
  • Remove mucus from a baby's nose with a suction bulb.

3. Ease Breathing

  • Use a cool-mist humidifier near the child to add moisture to the air.
  • Sit in the bathroom with a hot shower running and have your child breathe in the steam.

4. Make the Child Comfortable

  • Let the child rest.
  • Give children's-formula acetaminophen (Tylenol) to bring down a fever.
  • Keep the child away from cigarette smoke.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on September 16, 2013

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