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Shortness of Breath

Let’s cut to the chase: if you or your kiddo feel short of breath, get help immediately!

What is dyspnea?

Shortness of breath! It can occur because of allergies, a stuffy nose, or an illness that has progressed to pneumonia. Anxiety or panic attacks can also cause shortness of breath, even in our kiddos. And you know our little ones love to put things in their mouth – make sure they aren’t choking on anything. Truthfully, ‘shortness of breath causes’ is a lengthy list but the bottom line is that you need to call your doctor or head to the ER.

But maybe you’re reading this because your child has asthma, in which case shortness of breath might be something you are managing frequently.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease where the airways become inflamed, becoming swollen and narrow. Along with difficulty breathing, your kiddo might experience the following asthma symptoms:

  • Chest tightness
  • Whistling or wheezing while breathing
  • Coughing
  • Symptoms with increased activity/exercise (exercise induced asthma)

If your kiddo has not been diagnosed with asthma but you are seeing the above symptoms, go see the pediatrician to get it checked out. If your child has been diagnosed with asthma, try to limit her triggers to prevent asthma attacks.

  • Encourage regular activity, as long as it doesn’t cause an asthma attack. This will help strengthen the lungs.
  • Make sure your child maintains a healthy weight.
  • Control allergies or other possible irritants (smoke, dust, pet dander, cold air). When their asthma is triggered by allergies, it is referred to as allergic asthma.
  • Control heartburn, if you or your child has it.

When to call the doctor?

Use the inhaler or medication as prescribed by her doctor but know the asthma attack symptoms and when to get help.

  • Lips, mouth, or fingertips are blue
  • Struggling to finish a sentence without stopping for a breath
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling
  • Wheezing
  • Confusion
  • Increased rate of breathing

More specific to infants:

  • Nostrils flaring
  • Ribs more visible than normal during inhalation
  • “Belly breathing” – belly moving up and down more than normal while breathing in and out
  • Neck muscles look strained during breathing
  • Grunting during breaths

When it is hard to breathe adequately, it is extremely scary, no matter the age. Try to remain calm and help your child relax. The calmer you are, the calmer they will be – you are their rock! Take nice, slow, deep breaths and decrease stimulation in your area until help arrives.

Blake Wageman

Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 14 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents.