Breathing difficulties or wheeze

  • It is extremely scary if your child has any sort of breathing difficulty. Use your instincts; if your child appears well and their breathing difficultly improves after a short period, there is normally no need to worry.
  • Wheeze is extremely common in young children and is most often triggered by a viral infection. Most pre-school children with wheeze do not have asthma.
  • Children under 2 years of age with breathing difficulty may have bronchilitis. This is an extremely common condition that usually starts as a runny nose and cough but their breathing may get worse over the next 2-3 days.
  • If your child is struggling to breath, they need to be urgently seen by a medical practitioner and are likely to need treatment. If your child has croup (hoarse voice, barking cough, noisy breathing), they will also need to be seen by a medical practitioner.
  • Most chest infections are caused by viruses and do not usually need treatment with antibiotics.

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What should you do?

  • If your child is interacting with you normally and is able to drink as normal, you can watch them closely at home. If your child is not feeding as well as normal, you should offer smaller feeds but more frequently.
  • If they become more breathless or start or are struggling to drink, they will need to be seen urgently by a medical practitioner. Call your GP surgery or NHS 111.
  • If your child has a fever, their breathing may become more rapid. You should try to lower their temperature using paracetamol (calpol).

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How long will my child’s symptoms last?

  • Although your child’s cough is likely to last for 2 to 3 weeks, they should not be breathless or wheezy for more than 3 or 4 days.
  • The charts below show how long croup or bronchiolitis last in children. The faces represent 10 children who have croup or bronchiolitis. Green faces are those children who have recovered within that time period.

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The diagrams above are taken from www.whenshouldiworry.com

Feverish Child

When should you worry?

Your child should see a doctor if they...

  • have blue lips.
  • have pauses in their breathing.
  • have laboured/rapid breathing or they are working hard to breath – drawing in of the muscles below their lower ribs, at their neck or between their ribs.
  • are getting increasingly drowsy.
  • are too breathless to drink and appear to be getting dehydrated (cold hands and feet, sunken eyes, passing very little urine, becoming lethargic or difficult to wake, sunken soft spot on head in children less than a year of age).
  • are too breathless to speak.

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Where should you seek help?

Find urgent care services near you

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