Breathholding spells occur in children who are able to hold their breath long enough to actually pass out. Only 5% of children have this unusual reflex. They are healthy in every other way. They are usually 6 months to 2 years old with the first attack. This is a typical spell: following an upsetting event or falling down, the child cries once, holds his breath, turns bluish around the lips and then passes out. Breathing and full alertness usually return in less than a minute. If you’re certain your child has breathholding spells, here’s what you can do:
- First: Before the attack, do not give in to your child’s unreasonable demands or tantrums. If you do, your child will have more breathholding attacks, rather than less.
- Second: During the breathholding spell, have your child lie flat to increase blood flow to the brain. Get a cold wet washcloth and apply it to your child’s forehead until breathing starts again. Time the length of a few attacks, since it’s difficult to estimate the length.
- Third: After the attack, give your child a brief hug and go about your business. A relaxed attitude is best.
In summary, breathholding spells are harmless and always stop by themselves. They are not dangerous, and they don’t lead to epilepsy or brain damage. While breathholding spells look terrible, try to remain calm. By age 4 or 5, your child will have completely outgrown them.
By the way, if this is your child’s first breathholding spell or you have any questions, consult your healthcare provider.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 6/1/2000
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.