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
  • Looks very sick

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

Call the Doctor If Your Child:

  • Is younger than 1 year old and still has trouble breathing after you cleaned out her nose
  • Has been diagnosed with bronchiolitis (a common lung infection in children) or a reactive airways disease (such as asthma or a condition like asthma) 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 where the symptoms rapidly worsen


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) or ibuprofen (Motrin) if the child is older than 6 months to bring down a fever.
  • Keep the child away from cigarette smoke.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on October 11, 2017



American Academy of Family Physicians: "Bronchiolitis and Your Child."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Treating Bronchiolitis in Infants."

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