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Breath Holding Spells

Breath holding spells occur in some children who are able to hold their breath long enough to actually pass out. Only five per cent of children have this abnormal reflex. They are healthy in every other way. Following a triggering event, such as being frustrated or falling down, your child cries once, holds his breath, gets blue around the lips, and passes out. Breathing and full alertness usually return in less than a minute. Here’s what you can do:

• Before the attack, do not give in to your child’s unreasonable demands. If you do, you’ll have more breath holding attacks rather than less.

• During the breath holding spell, have your child lie down to increase blood flow to the head. Get a cold wet wash cloth and put it on your child’s forehead until he comes around. Do not call the rescue squad.

• After the attack, give your child a brief hug and go about your business. A relaxed attitude is best.

In summary, breath holding spells are harmless and always stop by themselves. By age four or five, your child will have completely outgrown them.

During Dr. Schmitt’s 20 years as a medical practitioner and researcher, he has published over 100 articles or chapters on pediatric health care, and has been awarded the distinguished C. Anderson Aldrich Award by the American Academy of Pediatrics for outstanding contributions to the field of child development. Schmitt has also authored five books including Your Child’s Health, which won Child Magazine’s first Hall of Fame Award in 1991. Schmitt is also a professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and on staff at The Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado.


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