Causes of Kids' Breathing Problems

There are many childhood conditions that can cause breathing problems. Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and a tightness in the chest are all common symptoms of many of these illnesses. If a child is experiencing trouble breathing, his parent should contact the child's health care provider immediately. If a child is having trouble breathing and her lips, mouth or face are taking on a bluish hue, her parent should contact emergency medical services.

If a child is having trouble breathing, contact her pediatrician immediately. (Image: moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images)


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is one of the leading chronic childhood diseases and is a major cause of disability in children. Asthma is an inflammation of the airways which causes symptoms such as coughing, whistling or wheezing, chest congestion, shortness of breath and repeated respiratory infections. Wheezing is often considered a tell-tale sign of asthma, but many children have asthma with no wheezing and very few symptoms. Asthma symptoms are often more prevalent at night.

Smoke, pollutants, cold air, changes in weather, allergens, viruses and exercise are all potential triggers of asthma in children. But, not every child will react to all triggers.

If a child complains of chest tightness, burning, pain or frequent coughing, or is having trouble sleeping, his parent should contact the child's health care provider.

Acute Bronchitis

The bronchial tubes carry air to and from the lungs. According to the Mayo Clinic, with acute bronchitis, the lining of those tubes becomes inflamed causing symptoms such as dry coughing, coughing up clear, white, yellow or green mucus; wheezing, fever and chills and shortness of breath that is exacerbated by exertion. Acute bronchitis often follows a cold or other respiratory infection.

Acute bronchitis may resolve with rest, fluids, over-the-counter cough medications and pain reducers other than aspirin. Sometimes, this won't be enough and if a doctor suspects a bacterial infection, he will prescribe antibiotics. He may also prescribe cough medicine.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common infection in children and babies. According to the March of Dimes, most babies contract RSV before they are two years old. While RSV is associated with serious infections such as bronchiolitis, or infection of the small breathing tubes, and pneumonia, many babies and children will only get a cold.

Symptoms of serious RSV infection include wheezing, shortness of breath, fever and coughing. A parent should contact her child's health care provider if she suspects an RSV infection.


Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lungs that an infection causes. Pneumonia in children may follow a respiratory infection such as RSV or bronchitis. Symptoms of pneumonia in children may include coughing that is moderate to severe and may produce mucus, wheezing, high fever, chest pain and possible vomiting.

If a child is experiencing these symptoms, her parent should contact the child's health care provider immediately. If a child is experiencing these symptoms and also has a bluish tint on his lips, mouth and face, her parent should call emergency medical services.

All types of microorganisms can cause pneumonia. "Dorland's Medical Dictionary" reports streptococcus pneumoniae is the cause of the most common type of bacterial pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia. A parent should ask his child's health care provider if the pneumonia vaccine, which may protect a child against pneumococcal pneumonia, is appropriate for his child.

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