Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Breath-Holding Spells - Brief Version
What is a breath-holding spell?
Breath-holding spells begin at age 6 months to 2 years.
These spells usually stop when a child is 4 or 5 years old.
Breath-holding spells are not dangerous. They don't lead to
any brain problems. Your child may hold his breath when he
is suddenly injured, frustrated, angry, or frightened.
During a breath-holding spell:
- Your child may make one or two cries and then hold his
breath until he becomes blue around the lips and passes out.
- Your child may stiffen out when he or she passes out.
- Your child will breath normally again and become fully
alert in less than 1 minute.
People have a reflex that causes them to breathe after they
have been holding their breath. This reflex doesn't work
well in some children and they pass out before taking a
How can I take care of my child?
- Treatment during breath-holding.
These spells are harmless and always stop by themselves.
During a spell, your child should lie flat. Lying down
makes more blood go to the brain and may keep the muscles
from jerking. Put a cold, wet washcloth on your child's
forehead until he starts breathing again. Don't start
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or call a rescue squad (911)--
it's not necessary.
- Treatment after breath-holding.
Give your child a quick hug and go about your business. A
relaxed attitude is best. If your child had a temper
tantrum because he wanted his way, don't give in after the
Call your child's doctor during office hours if:
- More than one spell occurs each week.
- The attacks change.
- You have other concerns or questions.
CAUTION: Call a rescue squad (911) if your child stops
breathing for more than 1 minute or turns white (not blue).