Shortness of Breath in Infants, Children, and Teens

Shortness of Breath in Infants and Children

If your child cannot seem to get enough breath in his lungs (shortness of breath) or is having a hard time breathing, he probably has a medical condition that needs treatment. If your child is old enough to talk, he can tell you that he is having difficulty breathing. If your child is younger, you may notice that he is breathing harder or faster than usual, isn't feeding well, or is cranky. Seek emergency medical care immediately if your child is in severe distress -- no matter his age.

Answering the following questions in this Health Decision Guide will help you understand more about what usually causes shortness of breath in children, and help you know when you should contact your pediatrician for medical care. Please note, this guide is not meant to take the place of a visit to your pediatrician's office.

Click here to begin.

Shortness of breath can be a sign of a serious illness.

Your child is having some difficulty breathing. Do any of the following other statements describe your child?

  • When my child breathes, I can see his nostrils flare, his belly move out, his ribs stick out, and/or his neck muscles tighten.

  • When my child breathes in, he makes a whistling or high-pitched noise.

  • He grunts when he breathes out.

  • His lips, mouth or fingertips are blue.

  • He can not talk or can not finish a sentence without stopping to take a breath.

  • He is drooling more than he usually would.

  • His face, lips, eyes, or neck is swollen.

  • He is scratching or has hives.

  • He is sleepier than usual for the time of day.

  • He is not moving normally.

  • He is not answering questions normally or seems confused.

Yes, one or more of these statements describes my child.

No, none of those statements describe my child.

Your child is short of breath, but does not seem to be having severe trouble breathing. That is reassuring.

Does your child have a cough?

Yes, my child has a cough.

No, my child does not have a cough.

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