What to look for
One way to tell if there might be something going on with your child is to see how rapidly they are breathing. If they are breathing faster than usual, it can be a sign that they have something going on. You’ll want to keep an extra close eye on this for a child that is younger than 3. Here’s a guide on what to look for as a normal breathing rate:
- 0-6 months: 30-60 breaths per minute
- 6-12 months: 24-30 breaths per minute
- 1-5 years: 20-30 breaths per minute
- 6-12 years: 12-20 breaths per minute
- 12 and up: 12-20 breaths per minute
Watch your child for a full minute and count how many times their chest rises in that minute. If it is not within the normal range, it might be time to call the doctor.
Some of the most common conditions that could be causing rapid breathing are:
Bronchiolitis: This is a lung infection that affects children that are less than two years old. It is most common during the winter or early spring. This condition makes the airways inside a child’s lungs narrow – causing them a difficult time breathing. Some other symptoms to look for: runny nose, cough, slight fever, wheezing and loss of appetite. This usually appears to be a common cold and then RSV spreads into the lungs – leading to conditions like bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
Asthma: Signs of asthma usually show by the age of 5. In addition to breathing fast, symptoms are coughing or wheezing.
Pneumonia: This condition typically comes on following a bout with a cold or flu. It can be caused by a virus or by bacteria. Symptoms to look for include difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing. A child that is younger than two is more vulnerable and should see a doctor if they have symptoms of pneumonia.
RSV (respiratory syncytial virus): RSV is an infection of the lungs. It is mostly found in children that are less than two years old. It may start out as a common cold with symptoms being a runny nose and fever. Sometimes these symptoms take a turn and become rapid breathing, coughing and even wheezing.
Croup: This is caused by a virus or a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. So, it could be caused by an illness like RSV. Croup causes inflammation of the vocal cords and nearby tissue. It may be accompanied by a fever, and a barky cough.
Sleep apnea: When a child pauses breathing during their sleep, it could be a sign of sleep apnea. It normally happens when a child is 2-8 years old. Another symptom could be snoring.
Whooping cough: A bacterial infection that affects lungs, bronchial tubes and larynx. (Named for the “whooping” sound a child will make when they cough.) It will begin as a cold and turn into forceful coughs that are normally dry. Other possible symptoms are fever, no appetite and irritability.
What you can do
There are a few things you can try at home to help your child feel better. These home treatments can help to expand your child’s airway, reduce irritants or pollution in the air or even treat the condition itself. Here are some suggestions:
- Give babies plenty of breast milk or formula
- Give toddlers up to older children water or juice mixed with water
- Children may eat more slowly because of breathing problems, so make sure that you give them plenty of time
- Thin the mucus in a stuffy nose with saline nose drops
- Remove the mucus from a baby’s nose with a suction bulb
- Drink something. Warm and hot drinks can help loosen the airways and relieve congestion.
- 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
- Use an air filter. A home air filter can help cut down the irritants in the air that could trigger the condition.
Make Them Comfortable
- Let the child rest
- Give them children’s-formula acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) if the child is older than 6 months to bring down a fever
- Keep the child away from cigarette smoke
When to call the doctor
Breathing issues are not uncommon in young children. But, sometimes it can be more serious. Here are some signs that you should call the doctor.
You should call the doctor if your child:
- Is younger than 1-year-old and still has trouble breathing after having their nose cleaned out
- Has trouble breathing or is breathing very fast when not coughing
- Has severe coughing attacks or continuous coughing
- Is wheezing or making a high-pitched whistle sound when breathing
- 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 chest muscles to breathe
- Is vomiting and can’t keep fluids down
- Has a cold where the symptoms rapidly worsen
Sometimes the situation can be more serious and even life-threatening. If so, you should call 911.
You should call 911 immediately if your child is:
- Gasping for breath
- Can’t cry or talk because of breathing trouble
- Grunts when breathing
- Has blue or dusky lips, face, hands, or feet
- May have a small object caught in their throat
- Is breathing very fast
- Looks very sick