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Children and Breath holding

When some children become acutely upset or angry they may hold their breath for what seems like an unnaturally long time. You may find it happens more often if the child has been unwell or simply if they have had an active day and are very tired. It can be part of a tantrum and/or be a sign of sheer frustration. The child’s body may become very stiff and tense and her face will be red or even purple. Most children will eventually cry but if they don’t the attack may end with a loss of consciousness which will last for a few seconds or at the most up to a minute. This is extremely frightening for parents or carers but attacks end by themselves and no harm comes to the child.

What you can do…

  • The first time it happens you will probably be too shocked to act quickly but always try to remain calm.
  • Once you have seen an attack you may be able to predict the next one by the pattern of the child’s behaviour. Give her a gentle shake, holding her arms to get her attention, or blow on to her face to try to stop the attack in its tracks. Then give her a firm cuddle.
  • After the second or third attack you will probably be quite adept at predicting attacks. However, make an appointment at the surgery to confirm the diagnosis.

This article is a guide only – please seek advice from your medical advisor in all cases.

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