Causes of heavy breathing in children

For many parents, seeing a child experiencing heavy breathing can be upsetting. It is important to note that heavy breathing can occur in children of all ages and triggered by various health conditions. Being familiar with the common causes and symptoms can greatly help in identifying breathing issues so that immediate medical care can be sought.

What are the common causes of heavy breathing?

Heavy breathing can arise from various health conditions where many involve inflammation of the respiratory tract. When it comes to croup, the condition also causes swelling around the windpipe and the vocal cords while bronchitis causes the inflammation of the bronchi.

As for pneumonia, it involves infection of the lungs and characterized by the presence of fluid and pus in the alveoli or small air sacs in the lungs. Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by swelling in various parts of the airways.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Labored or heavy breathing can be accompanied by other indications of breathing problems. The other symptoms that the child can experience include the following:

  • Rapid or short breathing
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing or whistle-like sound
    Heavy breathing

    The cold-like symptoms including chills, fever, runny nose or sore throat can also occur along with heavy breathing due to a secondary infection such as bronchitis.

The cold-like symptoms including chills, fever, runny nose or sore throat can also occur along with heavy breathing due to a secondary infection such as bronchitis. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the child might panic which is evident by fearful eyes, flared nostrils and abrupt or sudden movements.

What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Loud or heavy breathing that occurs at night time might be an indication that the child has obstructive sleep apnea. This is often accompanied by snoring and sleepiness during daytime which is a serious condition that develops once the child ceases to breathe while sleeping, usually for more than 10 seconds at a time.

The condition occurs as a result of physical obstruction that hampers the flow of air. In most cases of obstructive sleep apnea, they result from enlarged adenoids or tonsils.

Important considerations to bear in mind

Severe or chronic heavy breathing might indicate a medical emergency. In case a child appears to struggle to breathe or you become worried on his/her ability to breathe, bring him/her to the nearest emergency department.

Remember that loss of oxygen is a life-threatening condition that can result to damage to the brain and entails immediate medical care. In case the heavy breathing is due to asthma, the symptoms must be managed with long-term medications. During future flare-ups of asthma, it is vital to have ready access to rescue medications such as albuterol that can lessen the severity of heavy breathing and other symptoms.

Heavy breathing among children must be taken seriously. If it occurs after another condition such as flu or common cold, it might be a secondary infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis.

In such cases, the body of the child is already weakened after fighting the initial condition and most likely to have difficulty fighting off the secondary infection. A doctor must be consulted if he/she develops heavy breathing or other respiratory issues right after another condition.

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