Breathing Problems in Toddlers: Causes, Types, Symptoms, Treatment

Breathing problems in toddlers is a common condition and parents may find it hard to manage it. Toddlers usually experience mild to moderate breathing problems particularly during monsoon and winter. In most of the cases breathing problems in toddlers are caused due to viral infections like viral bronchitis or cold. It is important to know the causes, types and symptoms of breathing problems in toddlers. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment of breathing problems in toddlers is necessary to manage the condition well.

Although the symptoms of breathing problems can alleviate with some home treatment, but if the condition persists for more than 7 days, it is necessary to seek medical opinion. An examination should be done to identify the presence of other conditions like seasonal allergiespneumonia or asthma. Knowing the red flag symptoms like wheezing, labored breathing and caved-in chest even after home treatment can help to provide advanced treatment and prevent complications.

Breathing Problems in Toddlers

Causes of Breathing Problems in Toddlers

There are many causes of breathing problems in toddlers.

  • Prematurity – In most cases, prematurity is the primary cause of breathing problems in toddlers. If the lungs of the toddler are not fully developed till the time of delivery, then they may experience breathing problems after birth.
  • Birth Defects – Congenital defects which adversely impact the airway and lung development are also one of the common causes of breathing problems in toddlers.
  • Underdeveloped Immune System – Toddlers are at high risk of developing breathing problems and other respiratory tract disorders because their immune system is not capable of combating these viruses. Since their immune system is at a developing stage it can’t combat against the viruses and infections.
  • Respiratory Infections – Apart from viral bronchitis and cold, there are many other respiratory ailments where the toddlers may experience difficulty in breathing.

Most of the breathing problems in toddlers are acute in nature and alleviate on their own, but some of them are chronic conditions that may last for several weeks and even for months. Chronic allergic bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis etc. are some of the conditions that may advisedly affect the breathing of your toddler. Pneumonia is also a serious condition where the breathing of your toddler is affected.

Types of Breathing Problems in Toddlers

There are different types of breathing problems in toddlers. Breathing problems usually occur when the lungs of the toddlers are not fully grown. But, there are also other conditions that may lead to difficulty in breathing in toddlers. The different types of breathing problems found in toddlers include:

  • Apnea – This is the condition where the toddler stops breathing temporarily for at least 20 seconds. It occurs mainly with bradycardia, cyanosis, slow pulse or bluish discoloration of skin.
  • Pneumonia – If your baby is born prematurely, their lungs may not be developed fully and hence they are at great risk of developing pneumonia. Due to pneumonia the lungs may get inflamed leading to difficulty in breathing in toddlers.
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome – The surfactant of premature toddlers are not developed completely and this can cause the lungs to collapse, thus making it difficult to breath and this condition is called respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia – The new born babies are at high risk of developing bronchopulmonary dysplasia and this condition occurs when the premature baby receives therapy for complete lung development. This can lead to breathing problems in toddlers.

Symptoms of Breathing Problems in Toddlers

Breathing problems in toddlers usually give a sign of serious ailment. However, not all breathing problems require any medical treatment as the mild to moderate symptoms of breathing problems in toddlers can be alleviated using home treatments too.

Some of the common symptoms of breathing problems in toddlers include:

  • Wheezing
  • Hoarse Voice
  • High fever
  • Rapid breathing and raspy breaths
  • Coughing sounds like seal barking
  • Retraction, cheat caving in or sucking
  • Nasal and chest congestion
  • Nasal flaring
  • Bluish nails, lips or skin.

If the toddler is breathing rapidly, wheezing on exhalation but not coughing, then it is the symptom of pneumonia. It is the serious lung infection which can deteriorate the lung tissues if not treated timely. If the toddler is wheezing and complaining frequently for shortness of breathing then it is symptom of asthma, which may require medical attention. The toddler with asthma will experience faster heart rate and their fingernails will become blue. They will also have difficulty in speaking and walking and also experience chest retractions even after sitting or standing upright.

Diagnosing Breathing Problems in Toddlers

The diagnosis of breathing problems in toddlers is based on symptoms and notable signs. There are several tests and examinations done to know if the toddler is having breathing difficulties. Personal history and examination can help to reveal symptoms and trigger factors related to breathing problems in toddlers.

Conditions like asthma often worsen in certain situations, a history of which can help in diagnosis of breathing problems. When there is season change or allergy, the situation becomes worst. When the child is having asthma, the situation becomes horrid when there are triggers like cold or other respiratory infections, changes or extremes in weather, exposure to cigarette smoke or other airborne irritants, rigorous activity or exercise, allergy-causing agents (allergens), such as dust, pet dander or pollen, gastrointestinal reflux and when strong emotional reactions, such as crying or laughing.

Some tests done to identify breathing problems in toddlers include:

  • Pulse oximetry to gauge the oxygen level in toddler’s blood
  • X-Ray of their lungs or any other specialized scans
  • Arterial blood fast test to calculate the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood of the toddler and the acidity of the blood

Treatment for Breathing Problems in Toddlers

As the causes and types of breathing problems in toddlers vary, every cases needs to be handled in a different manner. The treatment for breathing problems in toddlers mainly depends on the cause and type of the problem. In most cases, infections are treated with antibiotics, while allergies may require anti-allergic medicines. Fever lowering medicines are given to control fever, if any. Asthma and other respiratory disorders often require bronchodilators and other symptom specific treatment.

Many people also try home treatment for breathing problems in toddles, which too can prove to be very effective in most cases. However, it is important to note that in case, breathing problems in toddlers do not improve in few days of home treatment, it is advisable to seek medical opinion.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 16, 2022

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