What Should You Do If a Child Suffers from Breath Holding Spells?

Best pediatric neurologist in Hyderabad

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Habib Pathan,
September 17, 2020

Breath Holding Spells Treatment

Breath-holding spells or breath-holding attacks are common and may also occur in healthy children as well. Though they look like seizures, they are actually not. Breath-holding spells are common in 2 to 3-year-old kids. A majority of the episodes of breath-holding spells do not harm your child as many children outgrow them by age six or seven.

Remember! Your child doesn’t react so on purpose. It’s his or her body’s involuntary response to a sudden event. Your child holds breath, gasps for air or doesn’t make sound and eventually faints. All these things happen because the reflexes change your child’s heart rate, breathing pattern and blood pressure.

You don’t have to do anything special if you witness a breath-holding spell in your child. Just keep the following information in your mind and act accordingly.

  • Don’t feel anxious and panic.
  • Be calm and relax for a while.
  • Wait for the child to recover fully from the spell.
  • During a breath holding spell if the child passes out (faints) support the child.
  • Ensure that the child doesn’t hit the floor.
  • Protect the head from hitting any hard object or floor.
  • Let the child lay down until they come out of the spell.
  • Do not shake your child.
  • Do not splash your child with water.
  • Ensure that the arms and legs of the child don’t hit the floor while they lay down on the bed or floor.
  • Remove any sharp, pointed and hard object and furniture if the child has a seizure.
  • Instantly remove any object or food item from the child’s mouth to prevent choking hazard.
  • Let your child get full rest and feel relaxed after the spell.
  • Don’t punish the child or reward them.
  • Be normal and act normally with the child and behave as if nothing has happened.
  • Do not act as if you are upset or make a fuss about the child.
  • Seek medical help if it is your child’s first breath-holding spell.

Don’t be careless when you witness breath-holding spells in your child that last for more than 60 seconds and when your child doesn’t wake up from the spell immediately and starts breathing. This is an emergency situation, you must seek emergency medical care as early as possible.

Breath-holding spells cannot be ignored as such because they may also be due to some underlying health issues including iron deficiency anaemia, heart issues (arrhythmias) and seizures. Your paediatric neurologist may help in diagnosing or ruling out these conditions. If other health issues are diagnosed, then treating them will reduce the frequency of breath-holding spells.

If your paediatric neurologist rules out underlying conditions, the doctor can help you in coping up with your child’s spells. The doctor will help in identifying the triggers and preventing future spells.


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