Breath-holding spells are brief periods when young children stop
breathing for up to 1 minute. These spells often cause a child to faint (lose
consciousness). They are usually not a behaviour the child does on purpose.
The most common type of breath-holding spell usually occurs in
response to emotions, such as anger or frustration. These spells are caused by
a change in your child's usual breathing pattern.
Another type of
spell occurs in response to fear, pain, or injury, especially after an
unexpected blow to the head. These spells are caused by a slowing of your
child's heart rate.
Breath-holding spells can occur in children
between 6 months and 6 years of age and are most common from 1 to 3 years of
age. How often they happen varies a lot in different children. The spells are
usually not serious, do not cause permanent damage or affect a child's future
health, and gradually go away on their own over time.
In general, breath-holding spells cause a child to faint. A spell
may sometimes cause the muscles to twitch or the body to stiffen. Your child
will wake up on his or her own and start to breathe again normally.
Call 911 or emergency care right away if your child does not
start breathing within 1 minute.
Symptoms of spells brought on by
emotions like anger or frustration include:
Symptoms of spells brought on by fear, pain, or injury
Some children also have seizures during breath-holding
spells. This does not mean they have a seizure disorder. Seizures are different
from mild twitching, and they may cause a child to vomit or pass urine. They
are more likely to occur in children who have long periods of breath-holding.
Home treatment usually is all that is needed for breath-holding
spells. You can make breath-holding spells less likely by helping your child
get plenty of rest, feel secure, and manage his or her frustration.
Call 911 or emergency care right away if your
child does not start breathing within 1 minute.
After a spell happens, reassure and
comfort your child. Keep in mind that your child is not doing this on purpose.
Make sure all your child's caregivers understand the cause of breath-holding
spells and how to manage them.
Talk to your doctor if:
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter P667 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Breath-Holding in Children."
Current as of:
July 26, 2016
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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