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Shortness of Breath in Toddlers

author image Rose Kitchen
Rose Kitchen is a freelance medical writer pursuing a bachelor's degree in sociology and education. She has a nursing background and is going back to nursing school in September 2011 for her R.N. Kitchen holds a certificate in anatomy and physiology and English and is pursuing certificates in natural and alternative medicine, fitness and nutrition and sports nutrition.
Shortness of Breath in Toddlers
If your toddler has shortness of breath, respond proactively. Photo Credit: Hemera Technologies/ Images

There are a few symptoms that are frightening for parents to see their toddler experiencing. Shortness of breath, medically referred to as dyspnea, is best described as a sensation of feeling suffocated or like the chest is tightening. This symptom may occur only once, or it may occur often. The causes of shortness of breath in toddlers always warrant a medical evaluation. If your toddler is ever short of breath, you should take her to see a doctor as soon as possible.

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Iron Deficiency

Due to not eating enough iron-rich foods, toddlers are vulnerable to developing an iron deficiency. When children are between 1 and 4 years of age they are growing quickly, using up their bodies' iron supply, according to MedlinePlus. When a toddler has an iron deficiency, he can experience less energy, headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, irritability and weight loss. Adding more iron to the toddler's diet can help to bring his iron levels up to a normal level. Children between 1 and 3 years of age should be consuming 7 milligrams of iron per day, according to MedlinePlus. Foods that are good sources of iron include lean red meat, dried fruits and beans, iron-fortified cereals, whole grains, eggs, seeds and certain vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus and spinach.

Acute Bronchitis

This condition occurs when an infection enters the bronchial tree. The bronchial tree is a structure composed of the small tubes that transport air into both lungs. When an infection occurs, these small tubes have mucus in them and they become swollen. A virus causes this infection in most cases, according to Toddlers with acute bronchitis can experience a sore throat, chest congestion, wheezing, body aches and chills, shortness of breath, fever and a cough with yellow, green or clear mucus. In most cases, this viral infection will clear up without medical treatment. If symptoms are bothersome, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help to ease aches and pain and children's acetaminophen can help reduce fever. If wheezing is present, asthma medications may be beneficial. Do not use over-the-counter cough and cold medicine for your toddler, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics.


Asthma is a condition in which the airways become swollen and narrow, resulting in breathing difficulties and increased mucus production. Symptoms include shortness of breath, a noticeable wheezing or whistling sound, coughing, symptoms made worse by a respiratory virus, tightness or pain in the chest, and difficulty sleeping due to symptoms, according to American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Medications are the most common treatment. Bronchodilators can quickly open airways that are causing breathing difficulty due to airway swelling. Other quick-relief medications include ipratropium, short-acting beta agonists and intravenous and oral corticosteroids. Long-term medications are most often taken daily at specific times. These can include leukotriene modifiers, combination inhalers, inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting beta agonists and theophylline.

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