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What Are the Causes of Shortness of Breath in Children?

author image Rose Erickson
Rose Erickson has been a professional writer since 2010. She specializes in fitness, parenting, beauty, health, nutrition and saving money, and writes for several online publications including The Krazy Coupon Lady. She is also a novelist and a mother of three.
What Are the Causes of Shortness of Breath in Children?
A pediatrician examines a young girl's lungs in her office. Photo Credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

When a child is short of breath, it can be difficult for him to get the oxygen his body needs to operate correctly. Symptoms may include nostril flaring, grunting and rapid or shallow breaths. warns parents to take breathing problems seriously, no matter the cause. Since shortness of breath is often a signal of a serious medical problem, it is important to understand conditions that cause it.

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According to the FamilyDoctor website, bronchiolitis, a viral infection of the lungs, can cause shortness of breath in a child. Children tend to contract this infection during the winter or early spring, and it typically lasts about a week. Symptoms typically resemble that of the common cold and may include a fever, coughing and wheezing.

Treat your child’s illness by offering plenty of fluids, using a humidifier and administering children’s acetaminophen. Contact a doctor or go to the emergency room if your child experiences vomiting, begins to turn blue or breathes more than 40 breaths per minute.


Dr. Alan Greene of explains that diphtheria is a bacteria-caused illness that multiplies quickly and destroys body tissues. When the bacteria enters through the throat, a child may experience typical cold symptoms such as a fever and sore throat.

If the bacteria is allowed to multiply, a whitish membrane can appear at the back of the throat and tonsils. This and the accompanied swelling can result in coughing and shortness of breath. To treat, a doctor must prescribe antibiotics, preferably in the early stages of the illness. In addition, the skin lesions must be carefully cleaned.


Croup, a viral infection, causes swelling of child’s windpipe and larynx. As a result, breath shortness and a barking cough result. Children who are born prematurely have a higher risk of contracting this illness. Mild cases can be treated at home with rest and an increased amount of fluids.

You can give your child acetaminophen to relieve any discomfort in the chest caused by coughing. Place a warm, wet wash cloth over your child’s mouth and nose to moisten the air and make breathing easier. Or steam up a bathroom and sit with him in the room for approximately 10 minutes. Contact your doctor if you are unsure if your child has croup or if breathing does not improve after exposing your child to humidity.

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