A breath-holding spell is when your child holds his breath until he passes out. Breath-holding spells start at age 6Â months to 2Â years. These spells usually stop when a child is 4 or 5 years old. Breath-holding spells are not dangerous. They don’t lead to any brain problems. Your child may hold his breath when he is injured, angry, or scared.
During a breath-holding spell:
Your child may make one or two cries and then hold his breath until he becomes blue around the lips and passes out.
Your child may stiffen out when he or she passes out.
Your child will breath normally again and become fully alert in less than 1Â minute.
People have a reflex that causes them to breathe after they have been holding their breath. This reflex doesn’t work well in some children and they pass out before taking a breath.
How can I take care of my child?
Treatment during breath-holding.
These spells are harmless and stop by themselves. During a spell, your child should lie flat. Lying down makes more blood go to the brain and may keep the muscles from jerking. Put a cold, wet washcloth on your child’s forehead until he starts breathing again. Don’t start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or call a rescue squad (911). It’s not necessary.
Treatment after breath-holding.
Give your child a quick hug and go about your business. A relaxed attitude is best. If your child had a temper tantrum because he wanted his way, don’t give in after the spell. If your child has a lot of attacks, ask your doctor to check your child for anemia.
Call your child’s doctor during office hours if:
More than one spell occurs each week.
The attacks change.
You have other concerns or questions.
CAUTION: Call a rescue squad (911) if your child stops breathing for more than 1 minute.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of â€œMy Child Is Sick,â€ American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2008-08-11 Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.