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).

Last Updated: October 8, 2009

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Martin Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.