Let us recall what we know about breath-holding spells:

  • A breath-holding spell involves holding the breath, then turning blue or pale and then fainting.
  • Breath-holding spells are common in children.
  • Children may hold their breath after a fright or becoming upset.
  • Usually, breath-holding spells do not cause any harm to your child.
  • Children pass out (faint) during breathing holding spells.
  • Fainting usually last for less than a minute, but very upsetting to witness.
  • Some children may experience stiffness in the body or a seizure.
  • Muscles twitching may happen.
  • There are 2 types of breath-holding spells – blue spells and pale spells.
  • Pallid spells may occur owing to sudden pain or scare.
  • When the child breathes out, there may be a long pause before the child takes another breath.
  • During some types of the breath-holding spell (cyanotic spell) there is a short burst of intense crying.
  • Sometimes children do not cry at all or just cry once (pallid spell).
  • During a pallid spell, the child opens their mouth to shout or cry but no sound comes out.
  • Children don’t have any control over their breath-holding spells as the reaction is involuntary.

What should you do when your child has a breath-holding spell?

Breath-holding spells do not require anything special from your side. However, during a breath-holding spell when your child faints – ensure that the child doesn’t hit the floor. Protect your child’s head from hitting any sharp or hard surface or floor. Keep their arms and legs protected while they lay down on the floor. Allow the child laying down until the spell is over. Stay calm and relax for a brief time so that your child can recover from the spell. If you see that your child has a seizure, remove any sharp or hard object and furniture that are in close proximity. To prevent a choking hazard, look for any object or food item in the child’s mouth. Your child may hold the breath for up to 50 to 60 seconds, but when he or she doesn’t wake up quickly enough and start breathing then immediately seek emergency help.

How are they treated?

Many parents get frustrated due to their child’s condition and find it difficult to deal with their child if they see the breath-holding spell. When you feel nervous, anxious and angry about breath-holding spells of your child then, you should consult a paediatric neurologist and talk to the doctor. If your child gets the spells more often then ensure that your child is being comforted, made secure and allowed to take plenty of rest. Explain in detail everything to the doctor about the breath-holding spells, how often your child has those when they start and how they end; are they becoming normal or getting worst day by day; whether your child is behaving differently than before.

Breath-holding spells go away on their own as your child gets older – your child outgrows them by age 6 or 7 years. Treatment is not needed for the majority of the cases of breath-holding spells. However, when your doctor suspects that there could be some underlying health condition behind the problem, the child may require treatment.