25 answers

Panic Attack in 4 Year Old???

Last night we had a Super Bowl party and my son had a ball. Even with a bunch of people over he still went to bed at his normal time between 7:30-8. Around 10:30 he woke up crying in bed - not calling for us or anything like that, which he would normally do if he woke up during the night. Anyway, he didn't seem to be crying exceptionally hard, but then he started really wheezing and making sounds like he really couldn't breathe.

When I sat down on the couch wih him, he fell back asleep fairly quickly and seemed to be breathing OK. Then, when I put him down on the couch he woke up and it all started up again. We ended up in the bathroom because he thought he was going to throw up. He didn't, but he did gag a few times. Finally, while we were sitting in the bathroom his eyes were closing and I asked if he wanted to go to bed. He did and his breathing was better, but still kind of rattle-y. We set up the humidifier in his room too. I ended up going to sleep on his floor until around 1:30 when he woke up. When I asked him how he was feeling he said "Good"! and sounded totally fine. Then he told me he would be OK if I went to sleep in my own bed.

This morning he is completely fine. A hard cough every now and then, but that could just be a cold starting.

My question is: Could this have been some kind of anxiety or panic attack maybe brought on my a nightmare? He didn't eat anything unusual so I that would rule out an allergic reaction of some kind. He doesn't seem to run out of breath when he's playing hard, so I don't think it would be asthma .

Has anyone else experienced anything like this with your kids?

It was really scary and the only reason we didn't go to the ER was that his lips and fingers looked OK (not turning blue or white from lack of oxygen), but we were sure considering it.

Thank you!

- As a side note, he does remember going through all of it. Does that go along with night terrors or do the kids usually not remember anything? Thanks again!

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

It really appears that my son did have a night terror. I'm guessing he remembers it because he did wake up during it (because we had no idea what was going on and wanted him to wake up) and that was when it escalated. His preschool teacher said that based on his vivid imagination she isn't surprised it happened with Cal. I also think being tired and on the verge of having a cold - it all came together at once.

Hopefully this is the one and only time it happens, but if it does happen again at least we know what we're dealing with. He does talk in his sleep quite a bit and has been known to sleep walk on occasion, so I guess this just goes right along with that.

Thanks for all the support!

More Answers

You might want to have him tested for asthma. As a person who has it, that sure sounded like an attack to me. If you can rule out allergies, it might have been an attack.

Sounds alot like a night terror! Look into it. 4 and 5 are common ages for them to occur.


It almost sounds like an asthma attack. I have four grown children and they all developed asthma in their early years and then outgre it. He should be evaluated by your pediatrician.


Hi H.,
I have to say that I have a 5 year old and a couple of times when he was sick, stuffy nose, cough, he would panic. I could feel the stress in him and the fear, and it scared me too. His breathing would change and he would panic. It almost caused me to panic too : ). I can't put it past a 4 or 5 year old having a panic attack. Fear flight response is in all of us. I hope this helped a little.
R. F.

Yes a 4 yr old can have panic attacks. My son who will be 20 next month started having them about age 5. We were at our wits end because we had no clue as to what was going on. He would act out incredibly, not just hyperventilate. After a couple of yrs of this off and on we finally took him to a therapist. He was diagnosed with general anxiety. He did take buspar for a couple of yrs and it did help although it didnt totally get rid of them. We even ended up having a battery of test done to make sure he wasn't having anxiety enduced sezier. (dang i can't spell that for the life of me :( )
I would often have to hold him in a "lock" on my lap or between my legs on the floor until he ran out of energy then he would fall asleep in my arms.
It was heart breaking. Knowing there really wasn't anything to do but hold him so he would hurt himself by fit throwing.
He seemed to do alot better so we got rid of the medication but I think that was a bad idea on my part because a few yrs later when he got into high school I tried to talk him back into it and he refused.
Some children are just extra sensitive to things and internalize their worries so much they overload. Made my sons high school yrs very stressful for us all.
But I can tell you he is learning to "talk" himself out of the anxiety before it gets the best of him.
I still wish he would consider the medication because frankly anxiety and depression run in my family for generations and I don't think he will really grow out of it to the point that medication wouldnt be a good choice.
I wish I would have know about the family history way back when then I could have made some quicker and better lasting decisions.
I'm not a pro medicate the kids to quiet them from being normal kids but medicine has made great strides and I believe we should take advantage to better our lives.
K. :)

My daugher at approximately the same age for several years would wake up with a blood curdling scream. The first time scared the daylights out of us. We never really knew what set them off. Most of the time she would saying things that made no sense what so ever. We also made we get out of bed and walked her to the bathroom use the facility and get a drink. Walk her back to bed and she would go right back to sleep. The next day she never remembered anything. We did find out if we did not make her get out of bed that she never seemed to go back to a very restful sleep. However she never seemed to have the breathing problems that you descriped but listening to her screaming and trying to calm her down we as parents did.

Hi H.,

I seriously doubt it was a panic attack. He might have some upper respiratory illness. You may want to take him to the doctor just to be sure. He may have just been overexcited, but I doubt it was panic.

L. :)

That sounds like Asthma to me, also. My son never gets wheezy, but whenever he gets a cold, he gets a bad cough and has trouble breathing when he lies down. I thought it might be an allergy to something (bedding, down pillows, pet dander, etc.). After numerous atempts to find out what it was, an ER doctor informed me that Asthma generally flares up when the child lies down (for unknown reasons), and makes it hard to breath, which will wake a child and be quite alarming. It can be a wheeze, a cough, a rattle in the chest. It is just best to nebulize him with some abuterol as soon as he has symptoms. I would recommend you check with a good pediatrician.

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