Breath holding spells can be a frightening experience for both children and their parents. They are a reflex-like response to sudden distress or pain, and involve the child holding their breath and turning pale or blue. It is important for parents to understand what breath holding spells are, what causes them, and what to do if their child has one. This blog post will cover what parents need to know about breath holding spells so they can help support their child.
What are Breath Holding Spells?
Breath holding spells, also known as pallid spells, are involuntary reflexes that occur in young children. These spells are characterized by the temporary cessation of breathing, often accompanied by a change in skin color, ranging from pale to blue.
It is important for parents to understand that holding spells are not intentional or voluntary acts, but rather an automatic response to certain triggers or situations.
Breath holding spells can be classified into two types: cyanotic and pallid spells. Cyanotic spells involve the child holding their breath after a sudden fright or physical pain, causing them to turn blue or purple.
On the other hand, pallid spells occur when a child’s breathing is temporarily halted due to emotional distress, leading to a pale complexion.
While the exact cause of breath holding spells is still not fully understood, they are believed to be linked to a combination of genetic factors, iron deficiency, and an overactive autonomic nervous system.
These spells are most commonly seen in children between the ages of six months and six years.
During a breath holding spell, a child may experience a loss of consciousness, muscle stiffness, and convulsions.
Although these episodes can be frightening for parents to witness, they are typically harmless and resolve on their own within a minute or two.
Breath holding spells, also known as BHS, are a phenomenon that occurs in some young children.
While there is only one official type of breath holding spell recognized by medical professionals, it can present in two different ways: cyanotic and pallid breath holding spells.
Cyanotic breath holding spells are the most common type, accounting for around 80% of all cases. During a cyanotic spell, a child may experience a sudden fright or frustration that leads them to hold their breath.
This causes a decrease in oxygen levels, resulting in a bluish discoloration of their lips, face, and nails. They may also lose consciousness momentarily and become limp.
Cyanotic spells are typically short-lived, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
On the other hand, pallid breath holding spells occur less frequently, making up about 20% of cases.
This type of spell is triggered by a sudden, intense emotional response such as fear or pain. Unlike cyanotic spells, pallid spells cause a child’s face to become pale instead of turning blue.
During a pallid spell, the child may lose consciousness and muscle tone, leading to falling or collapsing. These spells can last a bit longer than cyanotic spells, ranging from a few seconds up to a minute.
It’s important for parents to be aware of the different types of breath holding spells as it helps them understand and respond appropriately when their child experiences one.
While these spells can be alarming, they are generally benign and tend to decrease in frequency and severity as the child grows older.
Holding breath episodes are often triggered by emotions or physical sensations such as frustration, fear, anger, or pain.
They are more common in children who have experienced frequent pain, such as ear infections or colic. Additionally, there are several underlying medical conditions that can cause holding breath episdodes.
One possible cause is iron deficiency anemia. This condition affects the body’s ability to produce enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.
Without enough oxygen, the body may trigger a breath holding spell.
Another potential cause is seizures.
Some children who have epilepsy or other seizure disorders may experience holding breath episodes as a result of their condition.
In these cases, treatment for the underlying seizure disorder may also help alleviate the breath holding spells.
Certain medications may also be a contributing factor. For example, medications that lower blood pressure or affect heart rhythm may trigger breath holding spells.
Symptoms of Breath Holding Spells
During a spell, a child may stop breathing for a few seconds to a minute, resulting in unconsciousness. When they regain consciousness, they may experience muscle stiffness or a sudden jerk.
Some children may experience a change in skin color during a breath holding spell, turning pale or even blue, as their blood oxygen levels drop.
Others may experience rapid heartbeat, sweating, or difficulty breathing before or after a spell. In severe cases, a child may experience convulsions or seizures.
It is important to note that while breath holding spells can be alarming for parents and caregivers to witness, they are typically not harmful to the child and do not cause permanent damage.
However, if you suspect that your child is experiencing breath holding spells, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Diagnosing breath holding spells can be a challenge for parents and healthcare professionals alike.
Since there is no specific test for these spells, doctors rely heavily on the medical history provided by the parents or caregivers.
The diagnosis usually involves ruling out other potential causes for the episodes of breath holding.
A thorough physical examination is typically conducted to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions contributing to the spells.
In some cases, doctors may also order additional tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) or an electroencephalogram (EEG) to evaluate the heart or brain activity, respectively.
It’s crucial for parents to document and describe the episodes in detail, noting the triggers, duration, and any associated symptoms.
This information helps doctors make an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
In rare instances where the diagnosis is unclear or there are concerns of an underlying medical condition, a referral to a specialist, such as a pediatric neurologist or cardiologist, may be recommended.
These specialists can provide further evaluation and expertise to ensure the best possible care for the child.
Remember diagnosing breath holding spells requires close collaboration between parents and healthcare professionals.
By providing accurate and detailed information about the episodes, parents can help doctors reach an accurate diagnosis and provide appropriate care for their child.
When it comes to treating breath holding spells, the approach varies depending on the severity and frequency of the episodes.
In most cases, treatment is not necessary. Holding breath episodes tend to resolve on their own as children grow older.
However, there are certain strategies that can be implemented to help manage and reduce the occurrence of these spells.
Firstly, it is important for parents and caregivers to remain calm during an episode.
Panicking or overreacting can potentially prolong the spell or increase the child’s distress.
It is recommended to gently place the child on a safe surface to prevent any injury. You should also make sure they are away from sharp objects or other potential hazards.
Secondly, identifying and addressing any triggers can be beneficial in preventing breath holding spells.
These triggers may include pain, frustration, or fear. By avoiding or minimizing exposure to these triggers, it is possible to decrease the frequency and severity of the spells.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe iron supplementation. Studies have suggested a link between iron deficiency and breathing holding spells.
However, the effectiveness of this treatment method is still being studied. Iit is important to consult with a healthcare professional before initiating any form of supplementation.
Overall, the key to managing breath holding spells lies in providing a calm and safe environment, while identifying and addressing any potential triggers.
By implementing these strategies, parents can help their children navigate through these episodes with minimal distress and inconvenience.