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Moderate to Severe Difficulty Breathing in Children

Moderate to Severe Difficulty Breathing in Children

Difficulty breathing can occur when a child's lungs or heart are not working well.

Symptoms of moderate difficulty breathing

The child:

  • Breathes fast.
  • Tires during feeding and may stop often to catch his or her breath. This may cause the child to lose interest in food and eat less.
  • Needs to use his or her abdominal muscles to breathe.
  • Has pale, slightly gray, or blotchy skin, particularly the face, hands, and feet. The tongue, gums, and lips still look pink.

Symptoms of severe difficulty breathing

The child:

  • Breathes very fast or grunts with each breath.
  • Looks anxious or exhausted during feeding or is unable to nurse or take a bottle.
  • Uses his or her neck, chest, and abdominal muscles to breathe, causing a "sucking in" between or under the ribs (retractions).
  • May flare his or her nostrils when breathing in.
  • May need to sit up and lean forward or tilt the nose up as if sniffing the air.
  • May fight any attempt to change his or her position.
  • Has pale, gray, or bluish skin (especially the tongue, lips, earlobes, and nail beds), or the skin is mottled (patchy pale and blue pattern).

Last Revised: July 11, 2011

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD

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