Stay calm: What to do if your child has a breath-holding spell?

Entrance to East Tennessee Children's Hospital
Entrance to East Tennessee Children's Hospital

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A child can get so upset that they turn blue and pass out. This can be terrifying for parents and caregivers. Breath-holding spells are often associated with willful toddlers, but experts say a child can’t control these episodes.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Emergency Room Director Dr. Ryan Redman says episodes can be an involuntary reflex that are triggered by pain, fear or becoming upset. Children as old as 6 years of age can have a spell. The condition mostly happens in 2-year-olds.

The episodes are not harmful, however, a child can lose consciousness for a minute or less. In extreme cases, a child can have seizures. A seizure will not cause long-term harm or put the child at risk of developing a disorder.

If a child stops breathing, there are things a parent can do says Dr. Redman.

  • Stay calm
  • Check the child’s mouth for food or any object that could be a choking hazard
  • Roll the child over onto their side
  • Remove objects or furniture nearby just in case the child has a seizure
  • Do CPR if the child does not start to breathe

A child should see a doctor after the first episode. A doctor can determine if it was caused by an underlying condition. Also, a doctor can help determine triggers to avoid and ways to limit the episodes.

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