97 Cornerstone Drive, Cary NC 27519 (Stone Creek Village)

How Do I Know if My Child is Having Respiratory Distress?

There are many causes of breathing problems and it’s essential to be able to tell when your child is in distress and needs urgent treatment.

The most common cause of mild breathing difficulty is a stuffy nose which can be cleared using saline irrigation and gentle nasal suction for young children and saline rinses and gentle nose blowing for older kids. Kids with asthma might be wheezing and need treatment with their rescue inhaler. Kids with croup can wake suddenly in the middle of the night with loud raspy breathing and barking cough that sounds really scary. An allergic reaction can cause sudden and severe respiratory distress as can choking on an object or food.

How can a parent tell if breathing difficulty can be managed at home or needs an office or ER visit?

Look for these signs and symptoms of respiratory distress:

  • Struggling for each breath or shortness of breath while sitting still
  • Breathing so tight that your child can barely speak or cry.
  • Ribs are pulling in with each breath (called retractions).
  • Nostrils flare with each breath
  • Breathing has become very noisy (such as wheezing or stridor).
  • Breathing is much faster than normal.
  • Lips or face turn a blue color.

Call 911 Now

  • Severe trouble breathing (struggling for each breath, can barely speak or cry)
  • Passed out or stopped breathing
  • Lips or face are bluish when not coughing
  • You suspect your child choked on a small object that could be caught in the throat
  • Trouble breathing started suddenly after a bee sting, eating food your child may be allergic to, or a dose of medicine
  • You feel your child has a life-threatening emergency

Go to ER Now

  • Any child less than 1 year of age with trouble breathing that’s not just due to a stuffy nose
  • Ribs are pulling in with each breath (called retractions)
  • Trouble breathing and loud wheezing (tight sound with breathing out)
  • Trouble breathing and stridor (harsh sound with breathing in)

Call The Doctor Now at 919-460-0993 day or night

  • Mild wheezing (tight sound with breathing out)
  • Breathing is much faster than normal
  • All less severe trouble breathing
  • Face turns red or bluish only when coughing
  • Nonstop coughing that prevents sleep or normal activity
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen.


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