What are breath-holding spells?
Breath-holding spells are when children hold their breath, faint for a very short time, and then wake up and are fine.
Breath-holding spells are common, but most children have only a few.
Children aren't holding their breath on purpose
Spells often happen right after something scary, upsetting, or painful
Breath-holding spells usually happen between about age 1 year and 5 years but can happen in slightly older children
Children turn pale or blue and then pass out
After a few seconds, they start breathing again and wake up
Breath-holding spells are scary to watch but aren't dangerous
What causes breath-holding spells?
Doctors aren't sure why children have breath-holding spells. Some children have them during a temper tantrum Temper Tantrums All children get angry from time to time. A temper tantrum is an extreme, angry outburst. They usually happen in children 1 to 4 years old. Children may scream, cry, roll on the floor, throw... read more . Other children have them after being frightened, startled, or hurt.
Children who have a seizure disorder Seizure Disorders Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical signals. A seizure disorder is a problem that causes a person to have seizures. The brain is made up of nerve cells. Nerve cells talk to each other... read more (epilepsy) also can stop breathing, pass out, and have a seizure. But that's not a breath-holding spell. Brain problems cause seizure disorders. Brain problems don't cause breath-holding spells.
Is my child breath-holding on purpose?
No, not in a breath-holding spell.
However, some children do hold their breath when they're angry. They are doing it on purpose. They don't pass out, so it's not a breath-holding spell.
What are the symptoms of a breath-holding spell?
During a breath-holding spell, your child may:
Stop breathing and faint
Become pale or blue
Start breathing again, wake up, and feel okay
How do doctors diagnose breath-holding spells?
Doctors base the diagnosis on:
Your description of what happened
An examination of your child that shows nothing abnormal
If your child's examination isn't normal or what happened doesn't sound like a typical breath-holding spell, doctors may do tests. They want to make sure your child doesn't have some other disorder. They may do blood tests, an ECG Electrocardiography Electrocardiography is a test that measures your heart’s electrical activity. It's quick, painless, and harmless. The results of that test are shown in an electrocardiogram. It looks like a... read more , and a brain wave test (EEG Electroencephalography (EEG) Brain waves are electrical signals your brain makes. Your brain is always making electrical signals, even when you're asleep. Certain brain problems such as seizures cause changes in your brain... read more ).
How do doctors treat breath-holding spells?
Breath-holding spells last only a few minutes, so they're over before you can see a doctor.
To help prevent a tantrum from turning into a breath-holding spell, direct your child's attention to something else. If possible, avoid situations that brought on spells in the past.