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Moderate to Severe Difficulty Breathing in Children


Difficulty breathing can occur when a child's lungs or heart are not working well.

Symptoms of moderate difficulty breathing

The child:

  • Breathes fast.
  • Tires during feeding and may stop often to catch his or her breath. This may cause the child to lose interest in food and eat less.
  • Needs to use his or her abdominal muscles to breathe.
  • Has pale, slightly gray, or blotchy skin, particularly the face, hands, and feet. The tongue, gums, and lips still look pink.

Symptoms of severe difficulty breathing

The child:

  • Breathes very fast or grunts with each breath.
  • Looks anxious or exhausted during feeding or is unable to nurse or take a bottle.
  • Uses his or her neck, chest, and abdominal muscles to breathe, causing a "sucking in" between or under the ribs (retractions).
  • May flare his or her nostrils when breathing in.
  • May need to sit up and lean forward or tilt the nose up as if sniffing the air.
  • May fight any attempt to change his or her position.
  • Has pale, gray, or bluish skin (especially the tongue, lips, earlobes, and nail beds), or the skin is mottled (patchy pale and blue pattern).
ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
Last RevisedJuly 11, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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