A child standing in their room puffs their cheeks and closes their eyes while experiencing pediatric breath-holding.

How Nurse Triage Can Help Parents Understand and Manage Pediatric Breath-Holding

Pediatric breath-holding is a phenomenon that both perplexes and concerns parents and caregivers. Like the name implies, it’s when children hold their breath for a brief period of time, sometimes to the point that they pass out. Breath-holding usually follows feelings of anger, surprise, or pain. It can be demonstrated by children as young as six months, or as old as six years. While this behavior is usually harmless and often outgrown, parents benefit from understanding why it happens, and how to manage it. Telephone nurse triage can provide parents of children who hold their breath with needed reassurance and clarity.

Understanding Pediatric Breath-Holding

Episodes in children are not uncommon, and can be categorized into two types of breath-holding spells: cyanotic and pallid. Cyanotic breath-holding involves a child holding their breath to the point of turning blue due to oxygen deprivation, while pallid breath-holding leads to a child turning pale due to a sudden drop in heart rate. 

Pediatric breath-holding happens to about five percent of healthy children, and can be a condition that runs in families. These episodes (or spells) are often triggered by emotions such as anger, frustration, or fear, and they typically resolve on their own when the child starts breathing again.

Why Children Hold Their Breath

The exact cause of pediatric breath-holding remains uncertain, but it is often linked to the immature central nervous system in young children. Emotional triggers can lead to a vagal response, affecting the heart rate and blood flow. An iron deficiency may also be a contributing factor.

Understanding these triggers will help parents and caregivers respond to them appropriately.

Managing Pediatric Breath-Holding

While pediatric breath-holding is a largely benign behavior, it can be distressing for parents to witness their child turn blue or pale, or even lose consciousness. Here are some general guidelines they can follow on how to respond to these episodes.

Remain Calm. Panicking may exacerbate the child’s distress.

Ensure Safety. Gently place the child on a soft surface to prevent injury in case they lose consciousness, and, if possible, apply a cold compress.

Loosen Tight Clothing. If the child is wearing any tight clothing around the neck, adjusting it may facilitate normal breathing.

Monitor Breathing. Time how long each episode lasts. Once breath-holding subsides, closely monitor the child’s behavior.

Seek Medical Advice. Persistent or severe episodes, including seizures, may warrant medical attention. This is where triage nurses can better advise parents and caregivers on which providers they should speak with for diagnoses and care plans.

Addressing Pediatric Breath-Holding Using Nurse Triage

Triage nurses respond to patient phone requests by evaluating their symptoms and advising them on where to seek treatment. These evaluations are performed using Schmitt-Thompson triage protocols. Triage protocols cover a wide range of pediatric health concerns, and offer a standardized and efficient approach to addressing them — including breath-holding episodes.

TriageLogic’s Nurse Triage On Call service utilizes these protocols in its nurse telephone support. Registered nurses in our clinical call center are available 24/7 to serve as an extension of healthcare practices, answer patient questions, and refer them to the appropriate providers. This offers a standardized solution for directing patients to the appropriate care in the appropriate windows of time. All interactions are documented and shared directly with providers for continuity of care. Nurse Triage On Call has even been shown to decrease morbidity and mortality rates for patients struggling with severe or chronic conditions.

Improve Patient Health Outcomes With Nurse Triage On Call

While often harmless, pediatric breath-holding can be a source of concern for parents and caregivers. Understanding its triggers and management strategies will help protect children who are affected. TriageLogic’s Nurse Triage On Call service, coupled with Schmitt-Thompson pediatric protocols, can give your practice the resources it needs to address this condition. Our system lets healthcare professionals enhance their abilities to deliver timely and accurate care, promoting greater patient health outcomes.

Contact us today to learn more about Nurse Triage On Call and how TriageLogic can customize a solution for your organization.

About TriageLogic

TriageLogic is a URAC-accredited, physician-led provider of top-quality nurse telehealth technology, remote patient monitoring, and medical call center solutions. Founded in 2007, the TriageLogic Group now serves more than 22,000 physicians and covers over 42 million lives nationwide.

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