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Respiratory Distress

(757) 668-7000

When children are having hard time breathing, they will show signs that they are not getting enough air. Learning these signs will help you decide if you should call your child’s doctor, bring him to the Emergency Room or call 911.

Signs a Child is in Respiratory Distress


Your child breathes fast. You see an increase in the number of breaths he usually takes in a minute. Besides breathing fast, the child appears to be working harder to breathe.


A pale grey or bluish color is seen around your child's mouth, on the inside of the lips, or on the fingernails.


A grunting sound can be heard as your child breathes out with each breath.


The openings of your child's nose spread open when he breathes in.


The chest appears to sink in with each breath. You may be able to see it sink in just below the neck and/or under the breastbone. You may also see it sink between your child's ribs.


You may notice sweat on your child’s head, but his skin feels cool or clammy, rather than hot. This may happen when your child's breathing rate is very fast.


A tight, whistling or musical sound is heard when your child breathes.

Other signs of respiratory distress include:

  • Head bobbing – Your child’s head moves forward each time he takes a breath.
  • Your child insists on an upright, forward leaning position.
  • Your child is restless, agitated or irritable.
  • Your child is sleepy, limp, not interested in what is going on around him.

If you notice any of these signs, call your child's doctor, bring him to the Emergency Room, or call 911 right away.

Disclaimer:This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 07/2019

(757) 668-7000