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 their 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 their 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, continuous coughing or a barking-type cough
  • 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 their nostrils or draws in their 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. Offer this frequently and in small amounts.
  • Give older children water or an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte.
  • 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 or a nasal-oral aspirator.

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on October 15, 2019



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

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

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