Breath Holding Spell: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Fact Checked

A breath holding spell refers to a child holding his breath due to anger, fear, frustration or fear. Children between the ages of 6 months to 2 years of age are frequently known to hold their breath. Often breath holding spells do not result in loss of consciousness – they are normal reactions to anger and frustrations.

A child having a breath holding spell may show changes in skin color, initially starting off with red, after which the lips may turn blue. This will result in the loss of consciousness. However, the child will begin breathing breath holding spellsnormally within one minute and will wake up and be alert instantly.

Treatment options for breathing holding spells may include medication to prevent them and a special pacemaker for the spells.

Disclaimer: the material posted on this page on breath holding spells is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage childcare and babysitting emergency’s sign up for workplace approved first aid and CPR programs.

Causes

A breath holding spell may be an emotional reaction to anger, frustration, fear or injury. Breath holding spells rarely result in the child’s loss n consciousness, however, the child will recover within a minute. Breath holding spells are normal in children aging from 6 months to 2 years.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of breath holding spell in children include:

  • The child may cry once or twice before the breath holding spell
  • The child holds his or her breath for as long as possible or until the lips turn blue or the child passes out
  • The child loses consciousness
  • The child’s limbs become too rigid or stiff
  • The child begins to breathe normally within a minute after which he or she will awaken and be fully alert again

Treatment

For most children, treatment is not needed for breath holding spell. Many children simply outgrow breath-holding spell within 6 years of age. The best way to treat breath holding spells is to avoid them. Children often hold their breaths in response to fear or anger, therefore, parents should try to prevent such traumatic events from taking place. In order to minimize the impact of breath holding spell in children, parents and caretakers must ensure that they remain calm before and after the spell. It is important that all objects nearby are removed and the child is in a safe place in order to prevent injuries, in case the child collapses due to loss of consciousness.

Placing a cold cloth on your child’s forehead may shorten the period of the breath holding spell. Since mild or brief seizures are normal during a breath holding spell, it is important that you do not give your child any anti-seizure medication as your child is not suffering from epilepsy.

It is very rare in children to have breath-holding spells, due to an inherited disease. In such cases, immediate medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

Home care treatment

Follow these home care treatment steps to reduce breathing-holding spells:

  • Measure the time taken for the breath holding spell
  • Apply a moist, cold washcloth on the child’s forehead
  • Lay the child on his back, flat on the ground to encourage blood flow to the brain
  • Remain calm before and after the breath holding spell
  • After the breathing holding spell, give your child a hug

When to seek medical attention

See you doctor if your child is having these problems along with breath holding spell:

  • Worsening breathing difficulty
  • Worsening wheezing
  • You child is holding his or her breath for more than 1 minute
  • Your child is having a seizure
  • Increased severity or frequency of breath holding spells

 Learn More

To learn more about managing children with breath holding spells enroll in workplace approved childcare and / or babysitting first aid and CPR courses with a credible provider.

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