Pediatric Emergency: Shortness Of Breath - First Aid

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Pediatric Emergency: Shortness Of Breath - First Aid
Pediatric Emergency: Shortness Of Breath - First Aid
Video: Pediatric Emergency: Shortness Of Breath - First Aid
Video: First Aid - Breathing Emergencies Training 2023, February

Emergency in children: shortness of breath

Shortness of breath is one of the most common emergency situations in childhood. Infections on the one hand, and accidents with foreign bodies in the respiratory tract on the other. Asthma is also a common cause of shortness of breath in children.

How severe the shortness of breath is or is felt depends on the cause. The body's ability to counteract shortness of breath (e.g. through increased work of breathing) also plays a role. In any case, it is important to recognize the signs and act accordingly.


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  • How is shortness of breath manifested in children?
  • How can I provide first aid?
  • What are common causes of shortness of breath in childhood?

How is shortness of breath manifested in children?

Severe shortness of breath in children is always an emergency. In this situation, you need to act quickly and dial 144 immediately if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Rapid breathing,
  • "Nostrils" (ie the nostrils rise significantly when inhaled),
  • pale and / or bluish / gray skin, especially around the lips, nails or eyelids,
  • Breathing noises such as whistling, rattling, gasping,
  • Breath-dependent retractions in the area of ​​the costal arch or above the collarbones,
  • Increased breathing and supporting the upper body (e.g. stopping on the back of a chair or the edge of a table) in order to use the auxiliary breathing muscles,
  • sudden cough,
  • sudden inability to speak.

How can I provide first aid?

If you have severe shortness of breath, it is important to dial the emergency number 144 immediately. The focus is also on reducing stress. All supportive measures, e.g. calming conversations, help in this emergency situation.

  • Calm the child down and try to keep calm yourself.
  • Open up tight clothing.
  • Provide fresh air.
  • Support the child in a sitting position to breathe or keep babies and infants in an upright position.
  • Monitor the child's condition.
  • Look into the child's mouth: is there a foreign body visible? If so, try carefully removing it. More on the topic: Foreign bodies in the airways.

Let the child breathe in cool, moist air (open the window in winter, alternatively place it in front of the open refrigerator) or put a wet washcloth on their nose; this can help reduce swelling of the lining of the mouth or throat. The rectal administration of cortisone suppositories is also possible in an emergency.

In the event of unconsciousness or sudden loss of consciousness

If the child's breathing is so restricted that it loses consciousness, quick action is required:

  • Shout out loud for help and make bystanders aware of the emergency situation.
  • Immediately ventilate: Lie the child flat on their back, carefully stretch their head back and ventilate them 5 times.
  • If the child remains motionless, start with chest compressions: press 30 times at a frequency of 100 to 120 times per minute.
  • If you are alone, repeat the cycle of 2x ventilation and 30x chest compressions and then dial the emergency number 144. If other people are present, ask them to dial the emergency number while you continue with the resuscitation.

More on the topic: 1x1 first aid for children

What are common causes of shortness of breath in childhood?

Viral infections

Viral infections in the upper respiratory tract are a common cause of shortness of breath in children. One example of this is the so-called pseudo-croup syndrome. This is an inflammation of the lining of the larynx. The triggering viruses are mostly: influenza viruses (influenza), flu-like viruses (parainfluenza), rhinoviruses (rhinoviruses) and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). Most of these viruses are transmitted via droplet infections. In addition to shortness of breath, hoarseness and barking cough, the sick children also have a particularly loud inhalation noise (inspiratory stridor). More on the topic: pseudo croup

Bacterial infections

An example of a bacterial infection in the respiratory tract is so-called epiglottitis, which is mainly caused by Haemophilus Influenza B bacteria (HIB). This leads to inflammation of the lid of the larynx. Because of the inflamed and thickened larynx, the upper airway can become obstructed. A loud inhalation noise is particularly noticeable. In addition, there is increased salivation, lack of voice (aphonia) and a high fever. Epiglottitis is a serious emergency. If you experience these symptoms, dial 144 immediately. Keep your child as stress-free as possible, calm them down and do not do any oral inspections yourself. Due to the vaccination against HIB, which is also included in the child vaccination plan, this disease is very rare today. More on the topic: laryngitis


Another cause of a breathing emergency is the asthma attack. The main symptoms are shortness of breath, coughing and dry, wheezing exhalations. It can be triggered by infections caused by viruses, physical exertion or contact with an allergenic substance. As a first measure, raise your upper body and talk to the child in a calming manner. If the diagnosis is known, an asthma spray should always be on hand. More on the topic: asthma

Other possible causes

  • Foreign bodies in the airways,
  • Insect bite in the mouth or throat area.

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