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My Daughter Recently Starting Claiming She Can't Breathe

I just realized I posted this under the wrong category, so I'm posting again:
My daughter is 6 years old and just recently has started getting pretty severe panic any time she cries, claiming that she can't breathe. Even if she's just crying a little bit, she starts flapping her hands and screaming "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" I usually just tell her to calm down and take a deep breath and then I get her a tissue to blow her nose and she's fine. But this is starting to worry me. It's also more intense if she's lying down. In fact, if she's crying and I tell her to lie down, she'll freak out and says she has to sit up or she can't breathe. Has anyone experienced this? It seems to strange to me that it just started happening out of the blue at 6 years of age. Thanks for your thoughts.

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Has she been tested for allergies and asthma. My daughter has asthma and when she cries, she does feel like she can not breathe. Even when her asthma is under control. There are also certain smells that cause her to feel that way, such as perfumes, cleaning chemicals, and some candles.

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For a few weeks my son kept twitching his eyes. Rapidly he would blink away. I feared Tourette's. I was worried he had a major anxiety issue. Then, I realized that a few days had passed and he had not done it again. I think that some kids experience anxiety physically and then they work it out and it passes. I take my daughter to yoga each week because she grinds her teeth at night. I figure giving her some stress relieving skills helps her in the long run. Finding something that soothes your child does help. Sometimes even just a body hug. But, it is better if the child can find soothing that happens on their own so they can soothe when you are not there.

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It sounds to me that your daughter may have asthma. An asthmatic response can result from suddenly breathing cold air, getting a resparatory infection, allergies or exercise. What your daughter is experiencing when she cries is exercise induced asthmatic attack. Definately laying down will put more pressure on her lungs and make it feel more difficult to get a breath. She should remain standing or sitting up straight and she can even put her arms up over her head to help open her airways.

I have asthma and my two kids have asthma and I have personally seen this happen to my son when he was small. I think you should have your daughter seen by a Dr. or at least mention this at your next visit. Honestly, a lot of Drs. are not up to speed on Asthma and don't really know how to diagnose it or treat it properly especially in young children. My son was diagnosed at age 2. We were lucky.

They are going to tell you she is just getting excited about the crying. But I can tell you from first hand experience, if I start having a sever asthma attach, or a sudden change in my ability to breath, it does cause panic which makes it worse. The primary meds for asthma are Pro Air, which is the new name for Intal, and Advair. The first relaxes the muscles that surround your airway. It is the contraction of these muscles that make it difficult to breath. This med is considered the "fast response" and "emergency med". You get an immediate responses to using this inhaler. Advair is a steroid based inhaled med that reduces swelling of the airway. This is a longer term med and takes longer to affect your body.

The best person I've ever spoken to RE:asthma is a pulmanary nurse. She really knew her stuff.

Two last things: I've spent many nights sleeping beside my kids while their bed was elevated so they could breath. My daughter now has what they call "night onset cough variant asthma". Basically when she lays down she starts coughing. Laying down does make it harder to breath. Finally,if you do find she has asthma and you want to know what if feels like, put a straw in your mouth and while breathing only thru the straw go about your business.
Good Luck

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I think you hit the nail on the head. Sounds like a panic attack to me. Your daughter is probably hyperventilating when she crys, which leads her to feeling like she can't breathe. Point out to her that she is breathing just find or she wouldn't be talking. I agree getting her to lie down in this panic state would be difficult. Try to divert her attention from her breathing. The more she concentrates on it the worse it will get.

When we inhale, air enters our lungs. In the lungs, oxygen crosses into the blood stream and carbon dioxide crosses out of the blood stream. The carbon dioxide is then exhaled out. We always have a combination of these two gases in our bodies. When someone gets overexcited, respiratory rate goes up and we exhale more carbon dioxide. Sometimes we exhale too much carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide helps to balance the Ph of our bodies. The normal Ph of the human body is between 7.35 and 7.45. Carbon dioxide = acid. Too much carbon dioxide (Co2) and the Ph drops below 7.35 and the body becomes acidic. Too little Co2, and the Ph raises above 7.45 and the body becomes alkalotic.

I know this sounds more complicated then it needs to, but it helps to understand that the symptoms are real. When your daughter exhales too much Co2 and becomes alkalotic this can increase her anxious feelings. Of course, these anxious feelings will cause her to struggle even more to breath which of course increases the amount of Co2 she is exhaling and worsening the problem. Ultimately, this will not harm her and her breathing will regulate, but it is quite uncomfortable.

Redirecting her in a physical manner, not only is distracting, but doing something active increases her body's need for oxygen, therefore, requiring a higher respiratory rate and in essence you increase the need for oxygen to meet her higher respiratory rate and the body's Ph becomes balanced.

Many people also will breath into a paper bag which will assist them in rebreathing their own exhaled Co2 and in that way balancing Ph. I just think it is difficult to get a 6 year old to breath into a paper bag.

Of course, if the problem persists, or your gut tells you there is something more involved, then speak to your pediatrician, although unlikely, there is the remote possiblily that your daughter has some other physical cause for these symptoms.

Best Wishes,
J. L.

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Hi C.,

Let me first say that I'm not a clinician, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I do however suffer from both asthma and an anxiety disorder.

The fact that your daughter is fine once she has calmed down makes me think that it may not be asthma. Once asthma kicks in (the airways constrict) it generally requires medication to open the airways back up. Without medication (albuterol), at the very least she would be uncomfortable for awhile.

The quick recovery you mention (by using calming mechanisms) seems to point more toward panic attack. The crying may trigger some physical sensation, like mild shortness of breath, that then makes her panic and then she's in a vicious cycle. The more she panics the harder it is to breathe. And yes, lying down puts even more pressure on the lungs. It only takes one panic attack to train sufferers to fear even the slightest hint of the strange sensation. So that now, even crying a little bit brings an anticipation of the fear.

It seems that once she has calmed down, the panic subsides, her breathing stabilizes and she's back to her normal self.

All that said, asthma and panic often go hand in hand. In fact, as a sufferer of both, I've learned that asthmatics suffer significantly higher rates of panic disorder. Once you know what it feels like to not be able to breathe, any situation that brings about even just THE FEAR OF not being able to breathe, will trigger a panic episode.

We all have a natural fight or flight reflex. It's what has enabled human beings to survive. However, in people with panic disorder, that wiring has just gotten a little too sensitive.

You should talk to her pediatrician about it. They may even be willing to refer you to a behavioral therapist who can help teach her some coping tricks.

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I am no expert and no medical person, but it sounds like she might be having a panic/anxiety attack. Whether or not the crying precedes the attack, or the attack happens because of the crying, I'm not sure, but feeling breathless and panicked to the point of needing to be calmed down sounds like an anxiety attack to me. Is something happening first that sets her off? Does this happen at certain times of day or as a result of a daily event, chore, etc.? I have not experienced this with my own kids but I have had a couple of panic attackes myself, and the feeling you get is just beyond awful. Like crawling out of your own skin awful! I got some therapy years ago when I was in my 20's and it really helped. I'd talk to your pediatrician about it and go from there. In the meantime, ask your daughter if she can share her thoughts with you afterwards, and maybe she'll be able to articulate what is going on in her head at the time it occurs. Good luck, it's hard when they are so young!

Hi C., my gut tells me to ask your pediatrician for a referral to cardiologist. It is probably a panic attack, but panic attacks can also occur because of things that are going on in the heart.

While important to talk to a doctor about that, the most probable explanation is that she is simply hyperventilating. Try to teach her to take slow, deep breaths before she starts getting upset. You could even practice some deep, slow breathing techniques when she is not upset, or introduce to yoga style breathing. And, make sure that you model that technique for her, taking slow breaths whenever you get upset, too. Good luck-


Well it sounds like she is having panic attacks - even adults think they can't breathe during an episode. This must be very scary for her (and you). I would strongly suggest that you get her checked for any form of asthma and if it is ruled out I would get her to see a therapist to assess her for panic attacks. Good luck!

Sometimes when kids see something on TV, they translate it differently and it becomes a fear of some sort. For example, my friend's husband used to jokingly moan and groan when he was in the bathroom, so their daughter got scared to poop because she thought it would hurt. Their mother could not figure out why she kept trying to hold it, and somehow a combination of talking to her and thinking about it she figured it out. You might want to ask her if she saw something on TV where someone couldn't breathe just like her.

If it is something medical, which is also possible, it would be good to ask the pediatrician.

Good luck!

C., this used to happen to me, and I was probably about the same age when I realized it. I'd get so worked up that I'd hyperventilate and then I'd start to panic. I think all you an do is assure her she is ok and to take some deep breaths. As long as she's not blue, I don't think you have to worry. I have a heart murmur and my mother used to notice the skin around my mouth getting a blueish tinge to it from lack of oxygen, but usually a few deep breath and soothing words helped out. I'd be careful not to react too much, it could become a tactic to avoid whatever is unpleasant and making her cry! (especially if it's a consequence!) Sounds like you are on track to me!

It is possible she has allergies? I would have that checked or she could have asthma that can make you feel pressure .Thats if you haven't thought of this already best wish K. Call the Doctor :)

Hi C.,
It does sound like she is having anxiety issues,
Did she have a situation where she was crying so much she couldn't catch her breath? This could trigger anxiety if she cries as she may be afraid it will happen again.

I would also want to rule out anything medically wrong. Have your discussed this with your pediatrician?

Has she been tested for allergies and asthma. My daughter has asthma and when she cries, she does feel like she can not breathe. Even when her asthma is under control. There are also certain smells that cause her to feel that way, such as perfumes, cleaning chemicals, and some candles.

I'd head to the doctors - this could be serious (whether it's medical or emotional). And I'd tell the doctor that you didn't come in until you were sure it wasn't a passing phase.

I have asthma and crying really hard can make it worse.

I have reflux too (the lying down part is what triggered this idea) - being upset can trigger stomach acid, lying down or crying can cause one to aspirate the acid. For me it triggers asthma, but it can just make breathing hard.

If it is panic/anxiety, it real enough for your daughter and should be addressed.

Asthma, perhaps, triggered by stress?

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